Extraordinary Times at the AGCO
It is an exciting time of change and growth here at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). As the agency responsible for regulating the alcohol, gaming, horse racing and retail cannabis sectors in the province, the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on our customers, stakeholders and the people of Ontario. Our organization of over 700 employees (including over 120 members from the Ontario Provincial Police) has also experienced an unprecedented shift, as we nimbly and effectively responded to the pandemic with a people-centric approach.
To support the industries and sectors we regulate, we implemented several temporary measures, such as waiving fees and extending the terms of all active licences, registrations and authorizations, through much of the pandemic. We also worked with government to ensure Ontarians had safe and continued access to the goods and services provided by our licensees and registrants, to the degree possible under the public health restrictions. Some of the measures we introduced have since been made permanent to further help individuals and businesses recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.
Looking forward to the year ahead, we will continue to strengthen and support the industries and sectors we regulate for the safety of Ontarians.
The AGCO has been regulating all legal gambling in the province since 1998. Beginning April 4, 2022, Ontario will launch a new internet gaming (igaming) framework that will combat the unregulated market, ensure increased market integrity and safety, and provide Ontarians with robust consumer and responsible gambling protections, while facilitating consumer choice.
The AGCO conducted an in-depth review of regulatory approaches taken in leading jurisdictions around the world, and after significant consultations with stakeholders, developed a strong regulatory framework for Ontario. As with all types of gaming in Ontario, the AGCO will employ a standards-based approach to the regulation of igaming. This approach shifts the focus from requiring gaming registrants to comply with a specific set of rules or processes, towards the broader regulatory outcomes they are expected to achieve. The International Betting Integrity Association recently recognized Ontario’s standards as a best practice model globally.
In July 2021, the AGCO released the Registrar’s Standards for Internet Gaming, which are a key part of the igaming regulatory framework and will come into force when the new market is launched on April 4. Our focus is to ensure that Ontarians are able to play on some world class internet gaming sites under a safer, fully regulated framework. This framework helps transition operators, gaming-related suppliers and players from the unregulated market to a regulated market, allowing for a business-like transition for those who are currently operating in the unregulated market.
The AGCO is also taking measures to protect the public interest and public safety by ensuring that unlawful and criminal activity does not take place in Ontario’s igaming market. Our Investigation and Enforcement Bureau will play a key role in this endeavour. We are extremely fortunate to be one of the few jurisdictions in the world that has a dedicated and fully integrated police bureau that provides ongoing investigative expertise, intelligence support and effective information sharing to external law enforcement, the AGCO, as well as other regulatory agencies and industry stakeholders.
Supporting responsible gambling remains one of the AGCO’s top priorities. The AGCO’s Standards set out a framework that seeks to minimize potential harm and promote a responsible gaming environment.
For example, operators must have a mechanism in place to monitor player risk profiles and behaviours to detect signs of players potentially experiencing harm. Sites must include prominent responsible gambling messages, and provide access to resources and assistance, including 24/7 live customer support. Gambling sites must also offer financial and time-based limit setting features, as well as opportunities for self-exclusion and breaks in play.
In addition, the Standards have very clear restrictions on advertising, including prohibitions around targeting high-risk, underage and self-excluded individuals. Ontario is one of the only jurisdictions in the world to prohibit the broad public advertising of bonuses and other gambling inducements, including through algorithm-based ads.
Other important marketing and advertising standards specifically prohibit ads:
- in media where most of the audience is expected to be minors;
- that feature celebrities or public figures whose primary appeal is to minors;
- that target self-excluded players; and
- that are false, mislead players or misrepresent products, like “free money” or “risk-free play” that actually require people to put their own money at risk to qualify.
Sport and Event Betting
With the passage of Canada’s Bill C-218 (the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act), the AGCO has worked to expand its regulatory Standards for all gaming, including lottery, land-based gaming and igaming. This is another milestone for the AGCO as we prepare for the regulation of sport and event betting through various channels in the province.
Under Ontario’s framework, all operators that provide sport and event betting offerings must have their own controls in place to monitor and report unusual and suspicious betting patterns. They must also engage independent integrity monitors, who receive, assess, and distribute unusual/suspicious betting alerts in accordance with the Registrar’s Standards.
The AGCO’s vision of being a world-class regulator that is innovative, proactive, inclusive and socially responsible is being achieved through its robust regulatory Standards, rigorous participant eligibility process, strong compliance assurance framework and customer-centric focus on service design and delivery. We are fully committed to ensuring the industries and sectors we regulate operate legally and responsibly for the benefit of all Ontarians.
Tom Mungham, Registrar and Chief Executive Officer