The presence and prevalence of online casino and sports betting advertising has long been a topic of debate, with some critics arguing that a torrent of marketing could pose real risks to young people and problem gamblers.
Such concerns have led jurisdictions around the globe to formulate their own individual ways of protecting their populations while simultaneously ensuring the viability of an industry annually worth billions of dollars. Here’s a look at the related history and ongoing issues currently impacting three of the world’s most vibrant iGaming markets—the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
All casino gambling in the United Kingdom was illegal up to the 1960s, when a series of legislative moves brought the sector out of the shadows and into the mainstream. These efforts were introduced to help eliminate the criminal elements behind what was then an illicit yet widespread industry, so as to allow a newly authorized sector to grow, thrive and become an important source of tax revenues.
Steve Donoughue is the founder and CEO of London-headquartered Gambling Consultant, and has specialized in the politics and business strategies of the gambling industry for 30 years. The management consultant regularly counsels major operators, suppliers, trade associations, regulators and governments, and in 2012-13 even served as a special adviser to the Culture, Media and Sport’s select committee inquiry into gambling.
“From the 1850s to 1960, practically all gambling was banned in the United Kingdom, although on-track sports betting was permitted,”
Donoughue says. “This century of almost total prohibition led to an epidemic of black-market gambling and prompted the police to become one of the biggest proponents for legalizing such activities nationwide.”
After the 1960s, Donoughue says the United Kingdom’s casino gambling landscape operated under a set of paternalistic regulations that forbid any advertising, so as to not stimulate demand. This state of affairs persisted until the passage of the Gaming Act of 2005, which allowed online and land-based casinos and bookmakers to begin advertising across television, radio, print media and online.
“This new piece of legislation got rid of the previous regime and launched the era of responsible gambling,” Donoughue says. “The premise was that casino gambling is a legitimate form of adult entertainment that nevertheless comes with an element of risk. To help mitigate such dangers, the updated regulations also required operators to help prevent problem gambling by identifying those at risk and signposting them to help.”
As a direct result of the Gambling Act of 2005, the gambling and bookmaking industries in the United Kingdom today spend an estimated $2.4 billion a year on advertising, with approximately 48 percent of this cash going towards online campaigns. However, this proliferation has worried many, despite the fact official Gambling Commission research shows the prevalence of problem gambling within the nation’s population fell from 0.04 percent in 2018 to an all-time low of 0.02 percent in 2021.
Donoughue says concerns over the growth of gambling advertising helped prompt the United Kingdom government to launch a review into the tenets of the Gambling Act of 2005, which published its white paper recommendations in April following over two years of deliberations. This exercise is now calling for the introduction of new affordability checks and stake limits alongside increased informational messaging on gambling harms and a consultation on stricter advertising controls.
Public Health Approach
The push for a review into the Gambling Act of 2005, Donoughue says, was triggered by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board’s 2016 decision to move to a “public health approach” to problem gambling. This body is now known as the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling, and advises the country’s Gambling Commission regulator, which two years later adopted an identical line and signed up to the theoretical idea of reducing gambling overall.
“The public health approach is the complete opposite to responsible gambling, as it considers all gambling to be dangerous,” Donoughue says. “Under this model, every gambler has the potential to become a problem gambler, and it looks to reduce the overall amounts of gambling with complete prohibition lying at the top of the spectrum. Lower down, gambling would be restricted by making it increasingly difficult to do via increasing amounts of friction encompassing more public health education and restrictions on advertising.”
Donoughue says this alteration has placed the origin of problem gambling at the feet of the gambling industry rather than on the punters themselves and “removes agency from the gambler.” He declares that advertising is, therefore, considered to be a major cause of problem gambling, which is a key reason why the country’s Premier League recently voluntarily decided to ban its 20 clubs from inking gambling-related front-of-shirt sponsorship deals from the summer of 2026.
“Prohibition doesn’t work, because gambling has been found throughout every civilization in history,” Donoughue says. “The prohibition of gambling only moves such activities underground. But we now have a regulator signed up to an ideology that is committed to bringing in more and more restrictions on gambling, with advertising as an obvious target.”
Looking further into the future, Donoughue predicts heightened affordability checks will become a reality, while attacks on the provision of bonuses and incentives push even more players towards black-market online gambling sites. He asserts this state of affairs will soon additionally incorporate amplified regulations from the Advertising Standards Authority to make the marketing of sports betting and gambling on television increasingly hard.
“I think they have a list and they’ll just work through it,” Donoughue says. “It is going to get worse, with bonuses and incentives heavily restricted and television advertising being banned completely. This constant pressure will most likely lead to the United Kingdom having a black market of about 40 percent in five years’ time, with the local horse-racing industry being at least half its current size as existing operators question the commercial value of having a Gambling Commission license.”
Across the Atlantic Ocean in Canada, the picture is somewhat different after federal legislation was amended in August 2021 to legalize online and retail single-game sports betting. The country of some 40 million people had earlier limited punters to parlay wagers, but abolished this prohibition owing to the growing presence of unlicensed foreign operators often headquartered in Europe and the Caribbean.
The Canadian scene improved even further last year when Ontario began allowing privately run iGaming operators to obtain licenses for the local provision of online casino entertainment including video poker, roulette, slots and baccarat. This move, which also runs to sports betting as well as live-dealer, craps and keno titles, means aficionados in The Heartland Province can now legally enjoy the fun being offered by more than 60 domains.
Michael Lipton from multinational law firm Dickinson-Wright LLP asserts the federal government’s decision to legalize single-game sports betting ended a scene that had been very limited by the parlay requirement. The Toronto-based firm is a specialist in American and Canadian gaming law, and helps land-based and online operating, manufacturing and supplier clients navigate a full gamut of issues running from disposal, acquisition, consultation and licensing matters to anti-money laundering, compliance, responsible gaming and governance affairs.
“There was some scope for sports betting in Canada prior to the change in federal law, but it was of a very limited nature excluding the foreign operators who had been inundating the market,” Lipton says. “There were offshore operators offering single-game sports betting notwithstanding the federal prohibition, as Canadian authorities were not really doing anything about it. This meant that local punters were not availing themselves of the opportunities being presented by the provincial lottery corporations only offering parlay sports betting.”
This picture meant the nation’s selection of land-based casinos and provincially licensed online sports betting sites did not necessarily see the need to advertise due to concerns any financial outlay would not be matched by more business. Lipton says such enterprises were moreover hampered by the fact “somewhat restrictive” rules do not allow television marketing to show people actually gambling or placing sports bets.
Nevertheless, the interest in advertising sports betting and online casino entertainment in Canada has increased following the market’s recent liberalization in Ontario, with operators now collectively spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to promote their offerings.
Lipton says an initial slow start in ad spend was significantly boosted in April 2022 when Ontario—through its Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and Internet Gaming Ontario bodies—issued a first raft of iGaming licenses and enacted improved marketing and regulatory compliance standards.
“The rest of Canada does not have the same type of internet gaming regime as Ontario,” Lipton says. “So far, the rest of Canada has not followed what Ontario is doing. It is now over a year into the operation and I think other jurisdictions are closely monitoring the situation and studying the opportunities, but it will take a while for the obstacles to fall and for these jurisdictions to decide to follow suit. By no means is this a slam dunk.”
However, the recent rise in the marketing of online casino and sports betting across Ontario has not pleased everyone. Lipton says many television viewers were especially concerned by the initial rush in advertisements, especially during sporting matches, as operators tried to gain market share and penetration.
“After the launch in April 2022, a number of very-well-financed operators began marketing their products by aligning themselves with active and former athletes as well as social media influencers and other celebrities,” Lipton says. “As a result, the television was inundated with these types of advertisements. It was over the top, and people were not happy as this went beyond what the government had intended.”
This unease led local politicians and regulators to fashion a new set of rules that will prohibit online casino and sports betting firms from using existing or retired athletes to market their services after February, barring only responsible gaming messaging. Lipton says these fresh regulations are to additionally apply to social media influencers and celebrities, while changing the definition for such individuals from having “a primary appeal to minors” to the more overarching “likely be expected to appeal to minors.”
“The new regulations will likely see operators considerably tone down their advertising and be very careful, because the regulatory authority has a clear and established practice of imposing significant fines of up to five figures on entities contravening its standards, whether that be operationally or with regards to marketing,” Lipton says. “Come February, I think there is going to be a lot of gnashing of teeth for those trying to figure out the new regulations.”
Lipton says the ongoing process of regulating iGaming in Canada has seen operators become more aware of the restrictions on advertising in addition to their obligations towards adhering to the existing standards and requirements. Looking into the future, he predicts other provinces will join Ontario in opening up their online casino and sports betting markets accompanied by corresponding levels of increased marketing.
“We have a regime in Canada that many may see as more cautious when compared with that of the United Kingdom,” Lipton says. “Nevertheless, in the future I can see more provinces following the example of Ontario, possibly starting with British Columbia and Alberta.”
On the other side of the world, Australia legalized sports betting some 40 years ago by allowing its states and territories to establish and run government-owned totalisator enterprises. With the exception of Western Australia’s enterprise, all of these have since been privatized and are now owned following a series of mergers and acquisitions by Sydney-listed Tabcorp.
However, while punters in Australia can now place online and land-based sports wagers via a large club of operators, the passage of the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 means they are prohibited from legally enjoying online casino entertainment including poker, roulette and slot titles. This ban additionally runs to in-play bets placed via the internet, but not to such flutters lodged over the counter or via telephone.
Peter Cohen is a former Victoria gaming regulator now serving as the regulatory affairs director for The Agenda Group, where he regularly advises an array of regulatory, governmental and industry partners. A former chairman of the International Association of Gaming Regulators, Cohen says the Interactive Gambling Act was passed following “concerns for player safety,” and now has “primacy” over state and territorial laws.
“One of the strongest anti-gambling voices in Australia at that time was Baptist Minister Tim Costello,” says Cohen. “When the law was passed, Costello’s brother, Peter, was the federal treasurer while simultaneously serving as the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, the political party that was then in government.”
Cohen says the marketing of sports betting in Australia is today regulated by a mix of federal and state/territory laws, including anti-money laundering regulations and rules that allow Canberra to impose specific limits on the advertising of such activities.
He additionally says some of the country’s most prominent online sports wagering names currently encompass Betfair, Bet365, Pointsbet and Flutter, which runs the Sportsbet service, as well as the company behind the Ladbrokes and Neds brands, Entain.
“Local casino operators such as Crown Resorts and SkyCity Entertainment also have licenses allowing them to offer their own sportsbooks, although the former outsources its sports betting to Tabcorp,” Cohen says. “There are moreover dozens of bookmakers with online-only licenses, most of which are licensed in the Northern Territory, while Tabcorp has retail exclusivity in every state and territory except Western Australia. Under the Australian constitution, a business licensed in one state or territory is allowed to trade in every other state and territory.”
Cohen says bookmakers have been allowed to advertise their services “ever since betting began,” but restrictions have since grown progressively stern at both the federal and state/territory level, particularly since about 2000, over concerns associated with problem gambling. He says this escalation has partially been caused by the failure of some operators to “read the room” and tone down their marketing efforts.
“The highly competitive nature of sports betting has operators competing for market share, and they have used advertising and marketing heavily in this pursuit,” Cohen says. “This has resulted in complaints about what many see as saturation advertising, particularly on television but also in many other forms such as the sponsorship of teams and venues.”
These heightened restrictions now encompass limits on the marketing of incentives such as complimentary bets. The federal government recently went farther by using its powers to impose new rules on television and radio advertising encompassing watershed statutes and a ban on spots being broadcast as part of live sporting events.
“In addition, the federal government requires warning messages to be used at the end of every television, radio, online or print promotion,” Cohen says. “The federal government has proposed greater restrictions on sports betting advertising, but not a full ban. But, if the operators do not pull back on their marketing assault, they run the real risk of further restrictions being imposed.”