WEATHER ALERT

Stars should not be shills for sports betting

Even though online sports betting in Canada hardly needed the boost, some of hockey’s greatest names are pitching in to help spread the word. It’s a troublesome development in a morally questionable endeavour.

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Opinion

Even though online sports betting in Canada hardly needed the boost, some of hockey’s greatest names are pitching in to help spread the word. It’s a troublesome development in a morally questionable endeavour.

Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers,the most recent winners of the National Hockey League’s most valuable player award, and Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player of all time, are shilling for online sports betting sites. What they have not been doing is explaining why.

One assumes, however, they have been paid handsomely for their endorsements.

CBC journalists recently submitted interview requests to the agents for all three players and received no response. So a CBC reporter posed some questions to Mr. Matthews in a post-practice media availability. He refused to entertain questions that were not “hockey-related.”

Mr. Matthews’ evasiveness, and the deathly silence of Mr. McDavid and Mr. Gretzky, prompt an important question:

If these three icons of our beloved sport are willing to use their faces and reputations to promote online sports gambling, why won’t they talk about the virtues of the products they are flogging?

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews. (Christopher Katsarov / The Canadian Press Files)

It would not be a stretch to suggest these three men — giants in the game of hockey — might not be fully aware of what it is they are doing as paid promoters of online gambling.

Online sports betting is, according to public-interest and academic research, among the most pervasive forms of gambling. The rise of online betting sites, which has followed very closely the quantum leaps forward in mobile-device technology, has created a perfect storm for the most vulnerable “degenerate” gamblers.

Recent studies in the United States — where 30 states have allowed online betting — indicate underage gamblers are frequently able to bypass adult-only controls and place bets.

However, it is in the United Kingdom where the greatest cautionary tales are found.

In 2005, the U.K. became the first country in the world to legalize online gambling, including single-game and in-game wagering. Since then, it has served as the laboratory to demonstrate all that is good (massive government revenues) and bad (an epidemic of gambling addiction) that comes from easy access to online betting.

The rise of online betting sites, which has followed very closely the quantum leaps forward in mobile-device technology, has created a perfect storm for the most vulnerable “degenerate” gamblers.

Governments, including the U.K. government, legalized online sports betting as part of a campaign to drive organized crime out of this part of the gambling world. While that may or may not have been one of the consequences, the U.K. was clearly unprepared for the tidal wave of gambling addiction that followed.

Last year, the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) was forced to open two new gambling addiction clinics after a 43-per-cent increase in referrals by physicians. The U.K. Gambling Commission estimates there are, at minimum, 138,000 citizens with serious gambling problems, many of them likely triggered by the onslaught of advertising for online gambling.

That is why in 2022, the country’s Committee of Advertising Practices banned athletes, celebrities and social-media influencers from appearing in gambling advertisements. Research that accompanied the new policy found celebrity endorsements of sports betting, often featuring video-game-like graphics, had a strong appeal to children and youth.

Modern sports heroes who care about the fans who support them should willingly withdraw from anything that has been proven to be harmful.

And that brings us back to three hockey legends and their refusal to explain their association with online sports betting. Modern sports heroes who care about the fans who support them should willingly withdraw from anything that has been proven to be harmful.

It’s time for all three men to either explain the rationale for their actions, or get out of the business of endorsing this insidiously addictive and too-easily accessible form of gambling.

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