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Can a Senate bill to regulate sports betting ads reach the finish line in this Parliament?

A senator's push to curtail the unchecked promotion of sports betting is working its way through the legislative process, with the aim of establishing a national framework for regulating these services. It's passed a second reading in the Senate, but has yet to reach the House.

Bill S-269 passed a 2nd reading in the Senate, but hasn't reached the House yet

People mill about outside Toronto's Scotiabank Arena at night, with PointsBet Canada branding on a giant digital sign on the arena in the background.

A senator's push to curtail the unchecked promotion of sports betting is working its way through the legislative process, with the aim of establishing a national framework for regulating these services.

In broad strokes, the legislation would require Ottawa to set limits on advertising — including possible measures to curb how much of it reaches Canadians — and also national standards for preventing problem gambling. But with an election on the horizon, it still has a long way to go before reaching the finish line.

"It's a long haul," said Senator Marty Deacon, who introduced Bill S-269, which recently passed second reading in the Senate — its text unchanged from first reading.

Canada legalized single-event sports betting in 2021. That effort gave provinces the green light to develop private markets for these services, but so far, only Ontario has taken that step.

Yet the shift to legalization led to a deluge of gambling-related advertising, with one CBC investigation finding that gambling messages filled up to 21 per cent of each broadcast, on average. That flood of marketing has irked some sports fans and it's among the factors prompting Deacon to get the ball rolling on regulating the ads.

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Deacon, a member of the Independent Senators Group, said the push to legalize gambling took several attempts to become a reality, playing out across the span of multiple Parliaments. But that legislation didn't address the advertising blitz that has ensued, which Deacon believes must be reined in.

She and other critics have raised concerns over its impact on youth, and also on those who might develop issues with problem gambling.

Brian Masse, a New Democrat MP who advocated for the legalization of sports betting, said it would have been preferable to have "a more comprehensive approach to this from the get-go," but he approves of the Senate's efforts to deal with the issue.

Following in Ontario's footsteps?

Ontario launched its regulated market for sports betting and online gambling in April 2022.

Today, Ontarians are placing billions of dollars in wagers each year — via poker and casino sites, as well as sports betting.

Sports betting represents only a fraction of these wagers, but this segment of the gambling industry has nonetheless drawn a lot of media scrutiny — the advertising push, in particular, for its intensity and its presence in markets where the advertised services aren't regulated.

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Charlottetown Senator Percy Downe is promoting legislation to require the federal government to control sports betting advertisements that are everywhere you look, online and on television. It would also develop a national framework to alleviate problem gambling.

But Ontario has made adjustments to its regulations since the launch of the legal market — and that has included putting restrictions on how gambling firms can advertise their services.

Initially, athletes past and present, including Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, appeared in ads promoting online gambling. But the provincial regulator concluded their presence in ads posed a risk to those under the legal gaming age and eventually banned athletes — as well as other celebrities and influencers.

Despite Ontario tightening its regulations, McDavid is still appearing in ads for BetMGM. But in the new spots, the hockey superstar is shown advocating for responsible gambling. Deacon recently told a Senate committee that exceptions like these amount to "a truck-sized loophole" in the regulations.

Masse is critical of how the province proceeded with legalized sports gambling.

"For me, Ontario blew it," he said, noting the province could have gradually introduced its legal market.

"Instead they just opened the spigot."

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario told CBC News via email that it has "committed to continuously assessing the [market] landscape to effectively address new or emerging risks to Ontarians," since the launch of the legal market.

Limited time for Parliament to pass bill

There's roughly 16 months left in the current Parliament if the election occurs on schedule in October 2025.

But two summer breaks, this year and next, reduce the runway to move S-269 through the Senate and then the House of Commons.

When an election is called and Parliament is dissolved, legislation that is in progress dies.

Deacon says she believes the bill must reach the House by Christmas if it's to be passed by the current Parliament, but she says there's "a general support" for the legislation.

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The NDP's Masse said legislators are familiar with the advertising issue, and that could be key in getting MPs engaged once the bill reaches the House.

"The issue is going to be well-understood by MPs of all political stripes," said Masse, who said he'd recommend to his caucus that it support acting on the advertising issue.

The governing Liberals say they're "looking forward" to seeing the bill reach the House.

"We know that many Canadians are concerned about the financial, mental health and addiction impacts of online gambling advertising, especially on young people," said Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge, in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"We are aware of Senator Deacon's Bill, which seeks to set a national standard for these ads, similar to regulations regulating tobacco and alcohol ads. We are following the Senate debate closely and looking forward to examining it when it is introduced in the House.''

A spokesperson for the Bloc Québécois said the party would study the bill when it arrives in the House.

Debra Eindiguer, the chief of staff for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, said the party caucus still needs time to discuss the bill.

Requests for comment from Rob Moore, the Conservative justice critic, and the three independent MPs in Parliament, were not returned by publication time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geoff Nixon is a writer on the national digital desk in Toronto. He has covered a wealth of topics, from real estate to technology to world events.

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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