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Ontario’s bet on online gambling and the impact it’s having on youth |



As online gambling sites become more prevalent in Ontario, experts are warning that kids could be collateral damage.

As online advertisements geared towards sports gambling seem to be everywhere these days, staff at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) say their problem gambling service has started seeing younger people come in.

“We have known for quite some time that youth aged 10 to 24 tend to have higher rates of problem gambling compared to adults,” says Dr. Daniela Lobo, an addictions psychiatrist and medical head of problem gambling and technology services and CAMH.

The most recent Ontario Student Drugs Use Health Survey found that one-third of students reported one or more gambling activities in 2019, and 4 per cent of secondary students reported experiencing mild to severe gambling problems.

The CAMH report says children and youth are especially susceptible to the effects of gambling advertisements.

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“Unlike other substances and activities known to carry risk and regulated by the government — specifically alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco — there are no federal regulations or codes regulating the advertising, marketing, and promotion of gambling,” the report says.

“The consequence of the increased advertisement in terms of sports gambling is that we are making it just a normal activity and associating it with the sport. We’re not thinking how that is going to impact people overalls,” says Dr. Lobo.

All this comes as provincial police have uncovered an illegal online gambling site targeting high school students in Orillia, after several high school students reported being threatened for having unpaid debts.

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Lobo says video games are also an issue, with more games offering young people the chance to buy mystery items with real cash and gamble on what is inside.

The online gambling market in Ontario was opened in April 2022, leading to a massive uptick in legal gambling and a slew of ads featuring celebrities and athletes promoting various sports betting and casino websites.

Then, in August 2023, the Alcohol Gaming Commission of Ontario reined in the advertisements when it announced it was banning the use of athletes in the advertising and marketing of internet games in Ontario. It also added restrictions on the use of celebrities who appeal to minors.

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Those restrictions came into effect in February of 2024.

But when it comes to advertising protecting youth, Lobo believes more thought should have been given to the potential harmful effects on youth before the ads were allowed to roll out in the first place.

“Other countries where sports gambling was made largely available went through the same things that we’re seeing here,” Lobo says. “They first had advertisement with athletes, then they stopped the advertisement with athletes and put gamble responsibly advertisements, and now a lot of them are talking about the harms of gambling.”

President and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association Paul Burns says legal sites have the right to advertise.

“One of the privileges that comes with being a regulated licensed site in the province of Ontario is the ability to advertise. That is to let people know that is a site you can gamble on, and if you’re going to do it, that’s the one that’s held to the highest regulatory standards by the province of Ontario,” he says.

He says Ontario has taken steps to regulate the online gaming marketplace to prevent minors from being able to access legal sites.

All legal sites in Ontario have the AGCO logo to prove it is being regulated and do not allow access to underaged residents.

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Burns insists that the current regulations are stringent, and as more information about the impact of gambling ads on young people comes out, they may change even more.

“It’s a very active conversation that’s been ongoing since before the Ontario marketplace even opened and will continue. It is something we take very seriously,” he says.

“We don’t want those young people on our sights, and they go to great lengths to put in the measures to make sure that (youths) cannot create an account and play on these sites.”

Lobo says the focus should be on raising awareness about the harms of gambling through commercials.

“Over the past several years, funding for research and prevention of gambling in the province has been cut tremendously,” she notes.

As for what can be done in the meantime, Lobo recommends parents speak to their children about the harms associated with gambling.

— with files from Global News’ Kevin Nielsen and The Canadian Press

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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