Sports betting ads cause concern from parents, addicts

Warning: This article contains references to addiction and suicide.

Like so many parents, Liz Ritchie hangs an ornament on her family’s Christmas tree for each of her children. As she hooks her son Jack to a tree branch, she is reminded that he won’t be home for the holidays.

Not this year, not next year, never.

At just 24 years old, Jack committed suicide after his gambling addiction left him feeling helpless, robbing him of his sense of purpose and life.

Sitting indoors in Sheffield, England, Ritchie has a clear message: “I want to warn Canadians, I want to talk from mother to mother. You need to worry about your children, this is not okay, and some of your children will die.”


If you’ve turned on your televisions in Canada to watch live sports in recent months, you may have noticed another match being advertised on your screens. The early addition of Saturday Hockey Night in Canada features no less than 19 sports betting ads.

Whether you watch hockey, basketball or any other sport on TV in this country, you can’t escape the onslaught of gambling ads being played over and over again at prime time. , while children and Canadians of all ages watch their favorite football teams. from one coast to another.

Ritchie saw a similar rise in sports betting ads in the UK years ago, but she didn’t realize how that would affect her son at the time.

“They warn you about sexual predators, drugs and alcohol, but the government never says anything about gambling,” she told CTV News.

Sports broadcaster TSN, owned by CTV’s parent company, Bell Media, currently produces and broadcasts its own gambling segments on TV, radio and online.

Rogers’ Sportsnet is also creating and launching its own cross-platform sports betting content, showcasing some of the most notable online talent.


Ontario is the first Canadian province to cooperate comprehensively, regulating the country’s first online gambling market. Now anyone of any age can legally bet on any aspect of the game or spin online slot machines with the snap of a finger on their phone. As other provinces draft their own legislation, all eyes are on Ontario.

Paul Burns, CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, a lobbying group for sports betting and gambling, believes that regulated online gambling is safer than alternatives in a few years. past year.

“Canadians access the game without control, without supervision, without protection. And that’s what this has done, it’s the biggest change in the last 12 months,” Burns said.

There are currently 68 provincially regulated online gambling sites in Ontario.

Lobbyists like Burns say that “advertising is part of what comes with having a regulated gaming market,” though he acknowledges that “there is a shared responsibility among broadcasters.” , sports leagues and sports betting to understand what is the right combination (gambling ads) for their products, for their customers and for the reputation of the leagues.”

The Wine and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the online gambling regulator in the province, sent an email to CTV National News stating that “Marketing and advertising standards” are in place “to help protect protect vulnerable and high-risk players from being lured into betting.”

AGCO also had discussions “with Canadian advertising industry leaders” to discuss “their role they play in managing ads placed by both regulated and non-regulated internet gaming sites.” controlled.”


But some anti-gambling advocates in the UK, where betting laws were expanded rapidly in 2005, are speaking out.

They believe the tragic lessons learned in their country will serve as a cautionary tale for Canadians.

“It’s a public health disaster waiting to happen,” Ritchie said.

Jack Ritchie is seen in pictures provided by his family.

Public Health England found that there are more than 400 gambling-related suicides each year in the country. In 2019, England’s National Health Service opened the first of 16 planned children’s gambling addiction clinics.

Matt Zarb-Cousin runs a UK nonprofit called Clean Up Gambling, and he says young people may be particularly at risk.

“Between the ages of 18 and 24, before your brain is fully developed, you are very susceptible to gambling problems. The fact that young people are more likely to gamble due to advertising, I think is a reason to limit it,” he said.

Zarb-Cousin added that advertising by UK gambling companies “has led young people to believe that they have to bet to enjoy the game and that when they reach the age of being able to gamble at 18, the first thing. The first thing they do is download all the gambling games. application.”


CTV National News sat down with a recovering gambler who asked us not to share his name or identity. For the purposes of this story, he is asked to be called Al.

Al now volunteers his time for Gamblers Anonymous Ontario, and he is also concerned about the impact sports betting ads can have.

“Imagine a 12-year-old or a 14-year-old watching hockey, basketball or any sport – how tempting it would be to put them on the phone.”

In an email, Sportsnet told CTV News: “We recognize that sports betting content and advertising represent a shift for audiences, and we are very thoughtful about the number and content of this space. no commercial advertising that we are allocating to our sports betting partners to ensure we continue to deliver a quality viewing experience.”

According to Al, broadcasters, sports federations and AGCO are not careful enough. Al shared that the number of parents calling Gamblers Anonymous to ask for help, fearing their child might become addicted to gambling, has skyrocketed in recent months in Ontario.

“A lot of parents think their kids are doing their homework upstairs, but they’re getting between $30 and $40K on credit cards,” Al said.

Criticized Athlete’s Participation

Some fans are speaking out against their favorite stars, who are currently appearing in several commercials.

From Connor McDavid to Auston Matthews to Wayne Gretzky, some of the biggest names in hockey have signed on and are raking in big profits. The NHL’s Washington Capitals have reached an agreement to feature the “Caesars Sportsbook” on their jerseys. Sports broadcaster TSN has even partnered with FanDuel as their official sportsbook partner.

In a statement, TSN said FanDuel “has a number of features in place to minimize risk for bettors, including tools to help customers place deposits, bets and time limits.”

But individuals like Al, who have spent decades gambling, say they believe a fully open online betting market will cause trouble for Ontarians – and residents of other provinces if they comply. under the same regulations.

Waving its phone in the air, the AI ​​emphasizes how much easier these apps and companies are to place bets.

“It is always in our hands. You don’t have to drive to the casino or the store if it’s snowing or raining. You can (gamble) at home while drinking coffee and ruin yourself.”


Back in the UK, Ritchie says she likens the wave of ads and TV content to making children addicted to spoon eating.

“It’s like feeding a child spoonfuls of vodka and scotch. It is being normalized in society.”

Ritchie, now a co-founder of Gambling with Lives, notes that she and other families know the price very well.

“I’ve talked to so many mothers and they’ve all said to me, ‘My heart is broken, I’ve lost my baby, I didn’t know gambling could take my baby,'” she said.

Richie said if her son, Jack, had come to her and said, “’A heroin addict’, we would have known what to do, but (with gambling) we wouldn’t have done it. Finally, he came to us and said that he had lost some money, and we banned him from joining the bookies, but that didn’t matter. He found a way to bet.”

Jack Ritchie is depicted in an image provided by his parents.


Ritchie said her son tried to quit, and at one point, college graduates stopped for 18 months. But he went back to it again.

After a long break from gambling, Ritchie said, one day in 2017, she and her husband received a letter.

“All of a sudden, Jack writes, ‘Old problems come back. I’ve gambled again and I won’t be coming back from here.’ The email contains a suicide note attached.”

Ritchie said that Jack did not die by suicide “because he lost a large amount of money,” but he took his own life “because he thought he would never get out of gambling.”

“I feel hopeless. Because of its normalization, it undermines his sense of self as someone who can take charge of his life. He thinks he’s let us down, but we’ve let him down, society has let him down.”

If you or someone you know has a gambling addiction, resources are available through Gamblers Anonymous.

If you are struggling with a mental health addiction or gambling problem, you can also contact ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600.

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