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AGCO releases iGaming marketing guidelines for Ontario

March 17, 2022

Yesterday, the AGCO published a blog entry for Important Information for Advertising and Marketing in Ontario’s New iGaming Market.  In it, the AGCO listed many key details with regard to the dos and don'ts of how both operators and their marketing affiliates may advertise various aspects of their offerings when the market opens on April 4, 2022. We highlight some of the key aspects of the document along with what they mean in practice.  We also highlight one potential issue for action by the AGCO.


When marketing iGaming on physical premises:

...neither igaming operators nor other businesses may provide gaming devices or gaming equipment (e.g., tablet) to players to access an igaming site at a physical premises.

A lot of money is being spent by iGaming operators to establish partnerships with sporting properties in golf, skiing, curling, plus some major teams will surely have betting partnerships.  All of these bodies hold big events that attract big-spending VIP customers. Their iGaming partners will be looking to establish their brands at these events. 

This rule above precludes the operators from providing the tech devices that would allow users to try their product at such events.  Instead, the advertising operators will certainly look to provide incentives for people to download their respective apps to their own devices at these events.


The situation for iGaming affiliate marketing in Ontario  

The accountability for meeting advertising standards is held by igaming operators themselves.  igaming operators are responsible to ensure that any third parties that they contract, including entities commonly referred to as “marketing affiliates” advertising on the operator’s behalf, also meet the standards. 

Any “marketing affiliates” that advertise for the Ontario market must not also advertise gaming sites that operate in Ontario without AGCO registration. It is the operator’s responsibility to ensure that the marketing affiliates they work with meet this standard.

In other words, the actual sports betting and iCasino operators must mandate that their affiliate marketing partners must act in good faith, and not market operators that are illegally serving Ontario without a license alongside 'legal' ones that are licensed.

In theory, this should help to create resources that are better for for Ontarians, so that they may find officially licensed Ontario betting sites and online casinos.  If a licensed provider is on a list for Ontario, they themselves will help to police things.  However, this will not help with affiliate marketers that act in bad faith and create pages or sites that are framed for Ontario, but have no licensed providers at all. 

In such cases, since no licensed provider will be interested to police for their own brand, the given page can be full of unlicensed operators that serve Ontario.  The public will need to be made aware of the need to look for 'iGaming Ontario' and 'AGCO' logos.


Sports Betting & Online Casino Bonuses in Ontario: no ads at all

Public advertising of inducements, bonuses and credits is strictly prohibited, including targeted advertising and algorithm-based ads.

Advertising on the gaming site: Once players choose to visit an operator’s gaming site or app, inducement, bonus and credit offers may be displayed.

The AGCO has taken a stance on this that is somewhat of a half-measure.  Some jurisdictions like Belgium and Spain have banned bonus offers outright, thus there is no inducement and nothing to advertise, whether on TV, radio or on an affiliate marketing site.  In this case however, offers framed as Ontario or Canadian sportsbook bonuses can exist, they just cannot be advertised off of the operators own platforms. 

To our knowledge, Ontario will be the only jurisdiction in the world to create this conundrum; allowing bonuses or inducements, but not their advertisement.  This sort of half-measure actually has a negative impact on some consumers. While broad messages are outlawed on mass media, in not allowing affiliate marketers to discuss bonuses at all for advertising, interested players that are actively seeking this information will not be able to get it.  

Good & transparent consumer information about new customer offers will not be allowed to exist in the same way that a TV ad will not exist on the same subject.  Consumers can't be shown which operator bonuses offer good value, or which bonuses are particularly hard to achieve.  We're not sure how broadcast and affiliate marketing of bonuses are treated the same way, but we're not in charge.

Ontario players will be less informed in this respect as a result.  This will leave affiliate marketers to look at other ways to express their content and differentiate their partnered operators with useful information. This may take the form of integrating payment method information into the topic of interest, so that consumers might be able to find "Interac online casinos" for example.


Truthful Advertising & Informed Play: is the AGCO already watching?

Game design features, including inducement, bonus, and credit promotions, shall help prevent extended, continuous and impulsive play, and facilitate low risk play behaviours. Inducement, bonus, and credit offers that require excessive play to qualify would not meet this outcome.

One of the operators that has already achieved its Ontario license operates in the USA with a particularly risky game: PointsBet. This is from PointsBet's terms and conditions for its Colorado service:

1.15. RISK

PointsBetting is a form of gambling where you can lose more than you initially bet or deposit. This means PointsBetting will not be suitable for everyone nor suit everyone's financial situation. Ensure that you are aware and fully understand the risks associated with PointsBetting before placing a bet. Please remember you bet with us entirely at your own risk and remember to bet responsibly.

When we read the AGCO's own rule, then read about 'PointsBetting', we would ask how 'PointsBetting' as a concept itself is facilitating low-risk play behaviours.  Furthermore, in the PointsBet Colorado bonus offer of 'First bets risk-free up to $2,000', PointsBet is setting aside the bulk of the offer to incentivize the riskier 'PointsBetting' play:

Get up to a $500 Refund (in Free Bets) if your 1st Fixed Odds Bet loses and up to a $1,500 Refund (in Free Bets) if your first PointsBetting Wager loses!. New Customers Only! Use Code - WELCOME - to take advantage!

Perhaps the AGCO is already aware of 'PointsBetting' and has already moved to either approve its use, or has ruled it out.  If they have not specifically looked at 'PointsBetting' against the context of its own rules here, we would hope they would take its measure now. 

We know this riskier form of gambling is on the table to be brought to Ontario. Will the AGCO allow it as measured against its own stipulations quoted above?  We'll see on April 4th. 


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