What’s the line when it comes to sports betting ads?  

 Photo by: Brenden Cowan

By Holly Morrison

It’s just about impossible to watch any kind of sports content without being absolutely inundated with advertisements for new sports betting ads. 

People have been gambling on sports for about as long as people have been playing sports and using currency. Sports betting is nothing new, but since Canada legalized single game sports betting back in August, it’s absolutely unavoidable. Turn on any sports channel, during any game, and it’s only a matter of time before you see someone trying to convince you to make a bet. It’s not even restrained to the commercial break, you might see it built right into an intermission segment or brought up by a commentator. 

One of the primary justifications for the legalization of single game sports betting was that the government of Canada would be able to regulate and also tax the industry, meaning that there would be more money available to provide resources to help those experiencing problems with gambling. It’s not a terrible justification. 

People were already betting on sports, they just had to do it in slightly more dubious ways. The presence of online sports books means that Canadians could place single game sport bets with companies operating outside of the country way before August of this year. It’s a similar justification as the one used for the legalization of marijuana; if people are going to do it anyway, the government might as well try to make it safer. It’s the “cool mom who lets you drink in the basement because she’d rather you do it in the house,” principle, just applied to legislation. 

On the whole, legalizing gambling is the right choice to make. We’ve seen that outright prohibition doesn’t really work, and in many cases only makes things worse and more dangerous. That doesn’t mean that the state of the sports betting industry in this country isn’t deeply concerning. 

I’m less concerned with the actual act of sports betting than I am with the way it is marketed and advertised to people. 

Ads are on billboards, on the sides of public transportation, online, on TV, just about everywhere you look, and they are nowhere near sufficiently regulated. These ads encourage viewers to engage in gambling by connecting it to their favourite sports. It’s depicted as a way to enhance the sports viewing experience, and while ads cannot explicitly sell consumers on the benefits of winning, it is certainly implied. 

Even more concerning is the integration of sports betting advertisement in what used to be mainstream sports content. A few years ago, if you wanted to know about sports betting, you had to seek out that specific content, now it’s becoming enmeshed with all of the other content a sports fan might consume. Panelists openly talk about betting and there are often segments detailing how the odds have changed from the beginning of a game to its intermission. The goal of this mid-game segment is, of course, to remind people that they can now place in-game bets, and that becomes even more clear when you see how often these segments are “presented” by gambling companies. In this way it becomes a normalized part of the fan experience. 

We all know that gambling can be addictive and become problematic for anyone, but those with problem gambling issues are most likely to be men between the ages of 25 to 34. That’s the primary demographic for any kind of sports content. 

Gambling content has become integrated with regular sports content, making it incredibly difficult to avoid. For someone who has had an issue, or knows that they could potentially develop an issue, this makes the sports viewing experience alienating. 

At the end of the day, adults should be allowed to gamble, even if it can be bad for them. There are a lot of things that we’re allowed to do, even if it’s bad for us, and gambling shouldn’t be an exception. 

Drinking is something that a lot of adults choose to do, it’s even been associated with watching sports, but it’s not required. Sure, there are ads for beer during hockey games and you can buy a pint at just about any stadium, but its ubiquity isn’t the same as the ubiquity of sports betting. Panelists don’t tell you that the liquor store is having a sale during the second period intermission, or that if you want to crack a cold one, the statistically best time to do it is before the third quarter. 

Not everybody who watches sports wants to bet on them, and indeed not everybody who watches sports should bet on them. Just like any other product that is legal, but potentially harmful, there need to be regulations on when and how it can be promoted. 

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