CAMH calls on governments to restrict gambling advertising to protect young people’s mental health

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Croupiers await customers on opening day at the Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto, June 20, 2023.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

The federal government should develop and implement national rules to restrict gambling advertising and promotion as part of a public health strategy, Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital says.

In a document titled Gambling Policy Framework, the Toronto-based Center for Addiction and Mental Health also calls on the Ontario government to limit the general availability of gambling, introduce mandatory safeguards, improve prevention and education efforts and develop and implement a provincial gambling strategy, among other recommendations.

Overall, the province should take a public health approach to gambling policy that shifts the focus from harm prevention from people who gamble to providers of gambling products, says the paper, released Wednesday.

A public health approach places at least some of the responsibility on service providers, CAMH scientist Dr. Nigel Turner said in an interview. But the current approach in Ontario puts the onus to behave on the player and de-emphasizes the role the industry plays.

Gambling includes everything from lottery tickets, casino table games, bingo and sports betting.

With 32 percent of Ontario high school students reporting gambling at least once in the past year, several CAMH recommendations focus on stronger protections for youth when it comes to advertising and promotion.

Gambling advertising should not appear in media and places where minors can be expected to make up more than 25 percent of the audience, according to CAMH.

It must also not attempt to influence non-gamers of any age to gamble, or refer to the sensation or effect caused by gambling, the document says.

The call to the federal government to create rules for gambling advertising was motivated by what Dr. Turner calls the flood of sports betting advertising that followed the legalization of single-game sports betting in Canada in 2021.

Following this change, Ontario opened its online sports betting marketplace to more than two dozen third-party operators. The competition between them has led to a large number of advertisements.

If people really want this online gambling service, it really shouldn’t be advertised much anyway. If that’s something people really want, they’ll find it, said Dr. Turner.

Since last month, no current or former athletes, celebrities and others who would likely be expected to appeal to minors can appear in advertisements promoting online gambling, under new rules introduced by the Alcohol and Gambling Commission. ‘Ontario.

But more needs to be done to restrict gambling advertising, Dr Turner said.

Megha Vatsya, therapist at CAMH’s problem gambling and technology use service, says many minors are seeking help for problems related to sports games.

We are seeing a lot of young people, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, taking up sports betting. But we also see people who were looking for support who are even younger than that, young people who have access even though it’s not legal, he said.

Bruce Kidd, professor emeritus of sports and public policy at the University of Toronto and founder of a campaign to ban all sports betting advertising in Canada, says the proliferation of sports betting ads normalizes the activity and it hurts sports by doing so.

It makes it a normal, accepted and everyday part of the sport. legitimizes it, he said. Once you promote betting, you are openly endorsing a whole change in the nature of sport, in a way that has been proven around the world to be harmful.

Mr. Kidd said he fully supports a public health approach to gambling.

There is no doubt about the harm it creates, and that there needs to be a public health approach.

Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, which represents many gambling operators in Canada, says the gaming industry wants to find the most effective tools and solutions to protect players.

As an industry we work with government regulators and the research community because we believe and understand the shared responsibility we have to protect players, he said.

The new ban on athletes and celebrities in ads is one example of changes the industry is making to protect people who play, Burns said.

The AGCO has said from the beginning: “You look at our standards on an ongoing basis and, based on evidence and research, we will act as we think we need to, and they did.”

But Dr Turner says the ban doesn’t go far enough – they left the loophole in there, which was that celebrities could be in adverts promoting responsible gambling.

Editors note: An earlier version of this article, which was incorrect, described Megha Vatsya as the head of CAMH’s gambling and technology use treatment service. Vatsya is a therapist with CAMH.

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