Ontario’s 2022 sports betting law raises concern over the growing influence of gambling in Canadian sports

Gerry ChidiacSports fans in Canada have noticed a huge increase in sports betting sponsorships, whether commercials, sportscasters giving the odds of every aspect of the game, or garish signs in stadiums.

This is a result of a new law in Ontario that took effect in 2022, allowing international gambling companies to operate there. Because Ontario is the most populous province, it is economically feasible for these conglomerates to advertise throughout Canada.

Other parts of the country, like British Columbia, have legalized gambling and even online sports betting, but it is essentially controlled by provincial lottery corporations that monitor abuse and keep the proceeds in the province.

Beyond the annoyance of gambling commercials to fans simply trying to enjoy a sporting event, should we be concerned about the presence of international gambling conglomerates in Canada?

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To answer that question, we need to look at countries that have given them virtually free reign over their sports culture.

Football (soccer) teams in Great Britain have long allowed front-of-jersey advertisements. Today, 40 percent of teams in their top tier, the Premier League, are walking billboards for sports betting. It seems ironic, but leagues and team owners are allowed to accept money from gamblers, while star player Ivan Toney is suspended for eight months for doing the same, all the while wearing a huge advertisement for “Hollywood Bets” on the front of his uniform.

The Premier League has voluntarily taken nominal steps to reduce the influence of gambling on the league, stating that, starting in 2026, teams will no longer be allowed to have front-of-shirt sponsorships from gambling companies. While some have praised this as progress, much more must be done. British Conservative Member of Parliament Iain Duncan-Smith laments, “At the moment, we’re probably the country with the most liberal gambling laws in the world.”

But he may be wrong. Australians spend more per capita on gambling than any other nation; the average citizen loses well over $1,000 a year gambling, with the percentage of income wasted on gambling significantly higher for lower-income Australians. This data is even more disturbing when one considers that sports gambling advertising targets young men, the demographic group most prone to risk-taking and most likely to develop lifelong addictions to gambling.

Virtually all sports organizations in Australia accept money from gambling corporations which gather data and calculate odds for gamblers, often not even in Australia. An investigative report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted that data is being harvested from amateur sports games, and gamblers are even using live streams of community leagues. They also found evidence that Football Australia allows gamblers access to soccer games played by underage players.

In essence, international gambling corporations are the definition of predatory capitalism. Historically, they have been linked to organized crime, money laundering, match-fixing, addiction, and the exploitation of the most vulnerable people in our societies. Efforts to normalize their presence through regular advertisements and sports sponsorships do not make them harmless. The fact that betting apps are on our telephones and accessible to children should be of particular concern.

The issue is not whether gambling and sports betting should be legal. People enjoy going to the casino and placing bets, and adults should be free to do so. Government-run gaming corporations also contribute significantly to youth activities and other not-for-profits. Although the system was never perfect in Canada, we had a relatively good balance until Ontario changed its laws in 2022.

Certain types of private corporations bring disaster wherever they go. Sports betting is one of those industries. We don’t need their obnoxious commercials and their sponsorships. Canadians are much better off without them, and we need lawmakers to advocate for the well-being of our citizens.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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