Ontario’s biggest challenge is currently facing the “influx of advertising and marketing” from the new operators who have entered the market. 

Those were the words of Shelley White, CEO at Responsible Gambling Council, ahead of her speaker appearance at the Canadian Gaming Summit 2022 this week, who sat down with CasinoBeats to speak about the region’s performance since its launch in April and how safer gambling can be improved. 

CasinoBeats: You are set to be speaker at the Canadian Gaming Summit which is taking place in Ontario a little over two months after the province debuted its digital ecosystem. How would you assess the region’s performance within that short time frame?

Shelley White: Over the past few years, RGC has worked closely with the key stakeholders in Ontario to collaboratively develop robust igaming and sports betting standards. Igaming and sports betting have unique characteristics which make these types of gambling different from casinos, bingo and lotteries. 

We provided evidence-informed RG standards and recommended practices such as RG Check, prevalence study, practices and public education, the development and implementation of a Responsible Internet Gambling Strategy with a focus on harm prevention and expanded treatment services.  

Given that Ontario’s new online market was completely new territory, RGC saw this as an opportunity to build upon Ontario’s robust gambling regulations, to implement RG standards and practices specifically tailored for the igaming and sports betting industries, to respond to the unique characteristics of these types of gambling. 

We know from our research and the global body of research that aggressive and prolific advertising can negatively impact vulnerable populations, such as youth and those who are struggling with their gambling. We have also learned from mature markets such as the UK and Australia, that the public are adverse to prolific gambling advertising. 

As a result, we’ve seen governments and regulators in other jurisdictions try and mitigate this by putting policies in place “whistle to whistle bans” that prohibit ads from running during games, and during certain times of day, as well as restricting ads that target certain populations. 

With this knowledge in mind, Ontario has put protocols in place to try and minimise the invasiveness of gambling advertising and marketing. Restricting inducements and prohibiting bonuses in broad public advertising is a very proactive and impactful approach. This is something that Ontario should be proud of implementing.

As everyone navigates this new market, the boundaries are being established and learned. It will be crucial to monitor the market as more operators enter and operating practices become formed. We will need to be vigilant and proactive about opportunities to change and adjust regulations to prevent the potential harms of gambling.

CB: What do you believe are the biggest challenges that Ontario must overcome? Have you witnessed any shortfalls thus far?

SW: The biggest challenge that Ontario is currently facing is the influx of advertising and marketing from the new operators who have entered the market. While we anticipated this, anecdotally we are hearing from many members of the public who find the amount of advertising in poor taste. 

This type of aggressive advertising does have negative impacts on certain vulnerable populations. 

Although Ontario does have standards in place for advertising and marketing, RGC would like to see this expanded upon to include more balanced advertising that includes appropriate responsible gambling messaging as well. 

We have seen some operators use some of their advertising dollars to develop ads that are rooted in responsible gambling and provide the public with information around the risks of gambling and to play within their limits. This is very encouraging and we hope to see more of this practice. 

Data is an important part of evaluation and informing the development of leading RG practices. We are pleased that iGO will be collecting player data which it will make available to researchers, and they have commissioned a prevalence study to establish a benchmark for iGaming and sports betting. 

Utilisation of player data will be vital as Ontario moves through the different stages of market maturity. We will want to be able to take note of effective standards, pain points and learnings so that we can be proactive with our standards and public education campaigns to protect consumers. 

It won’t be enough to make changes after the fact, we will need to be nimble and flexible to continuously improve as we progress through the different stages.  

CB: Personalisation is a much discussed topic within gambling, but what role can this play when it comes to responsible gaming? Is it utilised widely and effectively enough?

SW: Personalisation and customised programming based on the audience is essential to responsible gambling. RG is not a one-size-fits all approach. To be truly effective and impactful, messaging and information must be tailored and evidence-informed. 

At RGC, we use a customer segmentation approach to public education campaigns. Not every audience will resonate with the same messaging or information, so we need to be very specific with the information we are providing to certain groups so that they are relevant. 

We are starting to see the broader industry adopt a more bespoke model to responsible gambling. Cultural sensitivity and awareness are also starting to become emerging themes when developing and implementing RG in global settings. 

With collaboration and knowledge sharing between leaders, we can create a sustainable responsible gambling culture together.

CB: Is safer gambling firmly embedded within every aspect of companies operating within the industry? How could this be improved?

SW: This question is very much rooted in the foundation of RGC and the work that we do. Championing responsible gambling has been at our core for 40 years. More and more we are starting to see a shift in how companies think about RG. It used to be ticking a box on a to-do list, and now we are seeing operators embrace and integrate responsible gambling into the core of their operations. 

The return on investment that responsible gambling provides a company is invaluable, not only for the bottom-line but for their reputation. Companies who care about their players and customers will succeed in creating a sustainable player base. 

There is always room for improvement. Companies have to change their approach and make RG a priority by embedding it into their culture from the top down. If all employees are engaged and believe in the policies and practices put in place, it makes RG more impactful and effective.

CB: What are you most looking forward to at, or from, the Canadian Gaming Summit?

SW: I very much look forward to connecting with fellow industry leaders and peers in person. It will be important to connect and have meaningful conversations face-to-face. I also look forward to a conference packed with insightful sessions and panel discussions that will facilitate positive change in our work. 

Ontario’s new regulated online market is sure to be a hot topic, as well as innovation in technology and what that means for responsible gambling. With the changing Canadian gambling landscape, there will be much to discuss, debate and learn.

I am delighted to once again be a part of the Summit and to participate as a panellist. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Summit, an incredible milestone! 

The Summit brings together the best of the industry and now more than ever, it is an important time to spark discussion and encourage each other to find new ways to innovate and advance responsible gambling.