The Province of Ontario has passed new consumer protection legislation that contains provisions prohibiting the advertising of Internet gambling sites. The provisions underwent important changes at committee (first reading, second reading after committee), however, so that the final bill looks somewhat different from the one that was introduced in the fall. When first introduced, the bill contained a blanket prohibition on advertising an "an Internet site that operates an internet gaming business contrary to the Criminal Code." The bill defined advertising as:
(a) the promotion by print, publication, broadcast, telecommunication or distribution by any means, of information intended to promote the use of an internet gaming business,
(b) self-promotion and a contract under which one person obtains the services of another to develop or distribute the advertisement,
(c) a link in a website intended to promote the use of an internet gaming business.
After committee, the bill contained some important changes.
While the blanket prohibition remains unchanged, the definition of advertising has been narrowed to instances where the advertising originates in Ontario or is primarily intended for Ontario residents. The effect of this change will be to exclude the vast majority of Internet gambling advertising, which neither originates in Ontario nor is primarily targeted at residents of the province. Moreover, the prohibition against linking has also been narrowed by excluding links "generated as the result of a search carried out by means of an internet search engine." In other words, Google and other search engines won't be liable for links to gambling sites generated through search queries.
So what gets covered by this law? Most Internet gambling sites are unaffected, unless they specifically target Ontario with their advertising. Instead, there are two obvious effects. Offline, it seems likely that Internet gambling newspaper and radio promotion, common in some newspapers and on sports radio stations, will disappear. Online, Internet search companies and websites will likely refuse advertisements that target Ontario. Such targeting may occur either by way of the promotion itself or by using geo-identifying technologies. This law may also capture Ontario bloggers and websites that focus on Internet gambling. Those sites won't be able to feature Internet gambling advertising and may even face liability for posting links to various gambling sites.