Bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, along with Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Chris Harper have released a statement expressing their united opposition to gambling advertisements on television, radio and social media.
“Government policy has recognized that tobacco should not be advertised. This is true of other commodities. We urge you to recognize that well-being of people can be deeply affected by addiction to gambling which is now brought into the living rooms and on the laptops, smart phones and tablets through this business model,” reads the statement, released in October 2023.
“We may have reservations about gambling itself but are not condemning it as it remains a personal choice,” the bishops said. “Rather we are speaking to the policy that would permit the advertising and driving traffic and revenue toward an addictive behaviour in youth and vulnerable populations.”
The bishops called on Anglicans to join the Campaign to Ban Ads on Gambling, which calls for prohibition of gambling ads. They urged Anglicans in Ontario to read the campaign’s “White Paper on the Impact of Advertising for Gambling,” to write to their members of provincial parliament asking for the disestablishment of iGaming in Ontario and to pray for local communities.
The Ontario government established iGaming Ontario, which directs and manages internet gambling through private operators, in 2022. In its first year, iGaming reported more than 1.6 million active player accounts and wagers totalling $35.6 billion, making Ontario one of the top five gambling jurisdictions in North America, the white paper states.
According to Statistics Canada, 1.6 per cent of adult gamblers in Canada are at moderate to high risk of gambling disorders, which would translate to 25,600 people in Ontario. The white paper also says that underage gambling is common in Canada, often starting with children as young as nine or 10 years old, and is increasing with the spread of gambling ads. An estimated 10 per cent of the audience for sports on television, the paper notes, is made up of children and youth under the age of 18.
Archbishop Anne Germond, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, said Nicholls brought the white paper to the attention of the Ontario House of Bishops. Nicholls said she was previously contacted by one of the paper’s authors, former Toronto mayor John Sewell, who requested a meeting in late June with Nicholls and Toronto Bishop Andrew Asbil.
The bishops’ statement followed a motion passed at the September meeting of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario’s provincial council opposing online advertisements for gambling.Bishops brought the motion to provincial council in September, Germond said, to add strength to their statement.
Germond said the province’s house of bishops “quickly and unhesitatingly agreed” to support and sign the statement against gambling ads.
“Some of it for us is the negative impact that this has had on young people in particular and vulnerable people, those who may already have some form of addictive tendencies,” Germond said. “The constant stream of advertisements to encourage gambling that come through every form of social media and online has a deleterious effect on individuals.”
The metropolitan said families with loved ones caught in a cycle of addictive gambling behaviour understand the downward spiral that can result. “Relationships break down,” Germond said. “Overspending causes financial troubles in families. It’s a cycle that is very difficult to get out of without proper treatment.”
In a statement emailed to the Journal, iGaming said it had been founded to make online gambling safer than before. “Having regulated operators advertise their offerings is one way to help people in Ontario understand that the regulated igaming market offers player protections like deposit-limit and time-limit setting tools, ways of taking a short-term or long-term break, and easily accessible links to gambling support services,” the agency said. It added it was committed to supporting a “balanced approach to igaming advertising in Ontario.”
The agency said it requires its operators to spend a portion of their gaming revenue on advertising and educational campaigns that exclusively focus on responsible gambling messages. It also pointed to an August 2023 ban by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario on the use of athletes in igaming ads.