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First Nation chief writes to Gretzky, other stars over appearances in gambling ads

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If you’ve tuned into a hockey game or any live sports event in Canada over the last year, you’re sure to have noticed a stacked deck of gambling advertisements.

The commercials are flush with some of the biggest stars in hockey, and the influx of airtime has some concerned about the influence the ads will have on young fans.

The Chief of The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, Kelly LaRocca, has - like many families across Canada - seen the advertisements with her husband and two young children while tuning into NHL games.

Sitting down with CTV National News, LaRocca calls the commercials “intrusive” and “irresponsible.” The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation have now taken the step of writing an open letter to Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, who have all appeared in gambling ads.

“I hope that they stand down from advertising iGaming,” said LaRocca, who added, “Our youth look up to them. They're being told that it's okay to just pick up and gamble whenever you feel like it.”

The letter, written on April 17 and posted to social media on May 16, asks the trio of hockey superstars to "not promote the iGaming agenda any further."

Just over a year ago, Ontario went all in - regulating the first internet gambling market in Canada. Anyone of age can now place a bet on almost any aspect of a game, or spin an online slot machine with the flick of a finger on their phone. The Canadian Gaming Association is arguing that regulated online gambling is safer than illegal sites that have operated unchecked across the country for years.

In an email to CTV News, the association's president, Paul Burns, fired back at LaRocca’s assessment, saying “online gaming operators do not target minors and have robust 'know your customer' procedures for opening customer accounts and preventing minors from accessing sites registered to operate in Ontario.”

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which regulates gambling in the province, is now contemplating a ban on “the use of athletes as well as celebrities that can reasonably be expected to appeal to children and youth from internet gambling advertising and marketing."

While a decision has yet to be made, Burns says that before a celebrity can appear in a gambling advertisement, “operators must submit all TV commercials to thinkTV, (a marketing and research association) for clearance."

"Together these provide a high level of scrutiny and all licensed iGaming operators must be in full compliance before a commercial can air on television," he said.

The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation own the Great Blue Heron Casino.

When asked why she feels so strongly against online gambling advertisements considering the casino, LaRocca said, “You have to make an effort to get up and visit a land based (casino) facility. When you enter the door (to Blue Heron Casino) you're obviously subject to a check and security is there. It's not as simple as the click of a button from your iPhone in your living room."

The AGCO has yet to share when it will be making a final decision on whether to ban athletes and celebrities from gambling advertisements.

The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation says it's still waiting for a response to its open letter from Gretzky, McDavid and Matthews.

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