AS I SEE IT COLUMN: Why banning Gretzky is a good thing


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If you’ve watched any hockey on television this season, you will have noticed the avalanche of ads for betting sites. Most of the time it feels like two out of every three ads are for sites coaxing people to bet on hockey games and other sporting events.

Soccer stars are featured in the ads, track stars, hockey stars and even some curlers. During the NHL playoffs we’ve been inundated with gambling propaganda with ads that feature Toronto’s Auston Matthews, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and the Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

Leaving aside the question of why Gretzky would tarnish his legacy by shilling for gambling outfits when there is lots of reliable research that suggests gambling is tax on the poor (who are desperately looking for a quick fix to a better life), I was pleasantly shocked to see that the province of Ontario has proposed a bill banning all gambling sites from using celebrities and high-profile athletes in any form of advertising.

The Ontario government has decided that children are vulnerable to gambling ads featuring celebrity athletes and is moving to have those ads banned to protect children.

According to a group called ‘Ban Ads for Gambling,’ harms from gambling include “financial problems, stress to families, youth and children, mental health issues including addiction and even suicide – among other documented economic and social issues that negatively affect Canadians,” their website reads.

A teacher in Ontario sums it up perfectly. “Kids should not be exposed to this at a young age. It’s just the wrong messaging to be imprinting on them. It’s not healthy for their long-term growth.”

Banning gambling ads that feature high-profile professional athletes and Hollywood celebrities because of the damage they pose to young people, is a great idea for three big reasons.

First, any move that limits the allure of gambling to children and young adults is a positive thing for our country. Kids are impressionable – the human brain is not fully formed until a person reaches the age of 25 – so banning Gretzky and others from enticing children and adults to gamble is a great development.

Second, it proves that government plays a vital role in society. Small ‘c’ conservatives like to talk of getting government out of our lives. By banning gambling ads that use famous people because businesses and corporations can’t be bothered to govern themselves, it’s clear that government oversight and regulation is absolutely crucial. (This is why there are speed limits on roads, seatbelts in cars, emission standards to reduce the ominous and catastrophic effects of climate change, visors in hockey, food inspectors who test the food we eat…you get the picture.)

Third, it sheds light on the dark, greedy side of capitalism. Capitalism is all about kneeling at the altar of economics. It’s about profits, not people. Money, not morals. Businesses – generally speaking – are concerned with their bottom line, not so much how that bottom line affects society. The primary motivation of capitalism is making money, period.

So when the NHL, which was hit hard by the pandemic, went looking for extra sources of revenue, advertising dollars from gambling sites appeared to be a no-brainer.

Or so it seemed.

Experts have shared their expert opinions based on their expert research. Gambling can be harmful not just to adults, but to children. And if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic it’s that facts, not emotions – and evidence, not feelings – matter in a fundamentally important way.

Having the Great One and Connor McDavid race Zambonis isn’t just cheesy, we now know it’s damaging to children and vulnerable adults.

The very real potential for societal harm based on youngsters getting hooked on sports gambling because Gretzky and other prominent pros make it look cool, is far more important than the superficial question of why Gretzky is stooping to shilling for a gambling outfit. Forbes lists his wealth at over $250,000,000 so he can’t need the money. So why are you doing this Wayne? You are better than this.

Thankfully, government is stepping in to do what businesses will not do – put society’s needs over profit margins.

If you want to read more on how younger consumers are swayed by celebrity endorsers, I would encourage you to read “Brock experts weigh in on potential ban on celebrity gambling ads” from Brock University. It’s free, highly enlightening and available online.

Here’s hoping that Ontario does the smart and ethical thing and bans gambling ads with celebrities, followed closely by the rest of Canada.

We are better than this.

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