Responsible gambling advocates keeping eye on increasing 'normalization' of sports betting

·5 min read
At least one responsible gambling advocate is concerned about the impact on youth when she sees how 'socially acceptable' sports gambling has become. (John Locher/The Associated Press - image credit)
At least one responsible gambling advocate is concerned about the impact on youth when she sees how 'socially acceptable' sports gambling has become. (John Locher/The Associated Press - image credit)

CBC Saskatchewan is looking at single-event sports betting in the province. This story is a part of a series examining its impact.

Read part 1 here, which focuses on a Conservative MP whose says the Saskatchewan government has '"dropped the ball'"on single-event sports betting. His private member's bill paved the way for its legalization in Canada.

Shauna Altrogge says a few thoughts come to mind as she sees the recent proliferation of sports betting ads on television, especially as it relates to youth.

"I think one of them is how socially acceptable gambling has become in our culture, but also to a further extent, how socially acceptable sports gambling has become," she said.

As the director of the Gambling Awareness Program with the Canadian Mental Health Association's Saskatchewan division, it's part of Altrogge's job to educate the public about how to gamble responsibly.

Her organization has called Saskatchewan "a province where gambling is extremely common." It said roughly 75 per cent of Saskatchewan adults gamble and spend, on average, $855 on gambling each year.

Concern about kids' exposure to betting ads

Altrogge said when it comes to youth and sports gambling, there are things that concern her organization. She said it's almost seen as a different type of gambling activity than lotteries, casinos and slot machines.

"There's almost a sense of it's more skill-based. And if I have good team knowledge, good stats on my players, those sorts of things, it will allow me to be successful at it," she said.

"I think what's missing in that piece is that we also have to remember that there is risk and chance involved."

Her other concerns centre around the "fairly robust advertising" for "heavily-promoted" sports betting apps and platforms, as well as the influence of celebrity endorsements.

"I mean, sitting down and watching the hockey game in the evening and you've got little kids consuming those same ads," she said.

"Over time, what effect could that possibly have on our younger folks? When you look at all of those things, it's a bit of a worry."

Elaine McDougall, the director of marketing and communications at the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC), agreed that there is concern about how much exposure children who are sports fans are getting to sports betting ads.

"There's this normalization of sports betting happening as you're seeing all of these ads come in," she said.

McDougall said that this year, as RGC develops its usual prevention programming for youth and schools in Ontario, it is increasing the messaging around sports betting for that exact reason.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Circa Resort & Casino
Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Circa Resort & Casino

RGC and thinktv, a marketing and research association dedicated to the advancement of commercial television, are working on a PSA broadcast campaign around harm prevention and gambling that McDougall said will hopefully launch in the fall — first in Ontario, and then possibly in other jurisdictions.

"If this is meant to be entertainment, it's important that you know how to place that wager, how to do this in a safe way so that you're not spending money that's intended for rent or groceries," she said.

Sportsnet says it's being 'thoughtful' about betting ads

Sportsnet declined a request from CBC News to provide the number of complaints it has received from the public related to sports betting ads and content during this year's television broadcasts of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But in an emailed statement, a Sportsnet spokesperson said, "We recognize that sports betting content and advertising represents a change for audiences and we are being thoughtful about the volume and content of the commercial inventory that we are allotting to sports betting partners to ensure we continue to offer a quality viewing experience."

The statement also said Sportsnet is committed to promoting and educating audiences about the importance of betting responsibly, adding a portion of its airtime is dedicated to PSAs and responsible gaming messaging.

When asked about single-event betting ads intended for Ontario audiences that appear on screens in other provinces, Sportsnet said all ads that air nationally include a disclaimer indicating that the products are not available outside of the province-of-origin of the ad.

Kevin Waugh, the MP for Saskatoon-Grasswood whose private member's bill paved the way for legal single-event sports betting in Canada last year, said "it's been a little excessive on the advertising."

"We don't get it in Saskatchewan, but when I come here to Ottawa, my Twitter feed is filled with all these ads," he said.

"Like every third posting. It's gone overboard."

Waugh said he was also "totally shocked" that active professional athletes would sign agreements with gambling companies.

Calls of games including betting commentary

Waugh has also noticed a shift in the way some sports broadcasters will describe game situations.

He said he was watching a baseball game on TV earlier this spring in which it was 6-1 in the late innings and the announcer said, "That's a very important run at second base."

It was a reference to the over/under for the game, he said.

"So it wasn't a very important run for the game, but it was for the bettors," he said.

"I'm a little disappointed in the announcing in North America. A 'very important run' — 6-1 in the eighth inning. Are you kidding me? That should never be.

"But media outlets are hungry for extra revenue, extra eyeballs on TV."

Betting changing sports bar experience

Mia Danakas-Weinkauf, a co-owner of Mr. D's Stats Cocktails & Dreams sports bar in Regina, said she has noticed a "great increase" of their customers who ask for specific games to be shown on their TVs and then watch their online bets on their devices.

She said it's a new phenomenon that they didn't really see before the pandemic restrictions. It includes specific requests for matches or sports that never used to be requested, including soccer and tennis, she said.

Danakas-Weinkauf said the change has also prompted her to subscribe to a feed of NFL games.

"I've never actually had to do that before," she said. "Because a lot of the games that were just on, people were just watching. Which means there must be an increase of something that's going on because they ask for specific games."

AP Photo/Wayne Parry
AP Photo/Wayne Parry

Danakas-Weinkauf said she really wishes sports bars in Saskatchewan could get directly involved by being allowed to open sportsbooks.

"I'm hoping that something maybe comes up that our government could either enforce or come up with a plan that can help the businesses even more for the losses that we've had," she said.

CBC Saskatchewan wants to hear personal stories from people in the province about their experiences with single-event sports betting. If you are willing to share your perspective in a news story, please email sasknews@cbc.ca.

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