By Gerry Chidiac
Like the United States, sports fans in Canada have noticed a huge increase in the presence of sports betting sponsorship, whether it be commercials, sportscasters giving the odds of every aspect of the game, or garish signs in stadiums and arenas. 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? To answer that question, we need to look at countries that have given these gambling companies virtually free reign over their sports culture.
Football (soccer) teams in Great Britain have long allowed front-of-jersey advertisements. Today, 40% 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 gambling operatives, 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 teams will no longer be allowed to have front-of-shirt sponsorships from gambling companies starting in 2026. While some have praised this as progress, much more needs to be done. 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 on that point he may be wrong. Australians spend more per capita on gambling than any other nation; the average citizen loses well over $1000 a year to this industry, and the percentage of one’s income wasted on gambling is significantly higher for lower-income Australians. This data is even more disconcerting when one considers that sports gambling advertising targets young men, the demographic group that is 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. These sports gambling companies gather data and calculate odds for gamblers who are often not even in Australia. An investigative report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted that data is being harvested from amateur sports games, and live streams of community leagues are even being used by gamblers. They also found evidence that Football Australia is allowing gamblers access to soccer games played by underage players.
In essence, international gambling conglomerates 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 especially great 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 significant proceeds to youth activities and other impactful not-for-profits.
In Canada, though the system was never perfect, there was a relatively good balance until Ontario changed its laws in 2022.
Gerry Chidiac is a Canadian educator and a columnist for Troy Media.
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