Canadians Move Closer to Single-Event Sports Betting

It looks like it’s finally happening. Canada is prepared to legalize single-event sports betting, putting the nation on par with much of the United States and other countries around the world.

Nothing is final yet, but the chatter in the industry and among members of Parliament indicate that the move is closer than ever.

Could it happen by the end of 2020? That seems unlikely but the momentum is undeniable. It would be a long-awaited gift to many businesses in Canada, not to mention sports fans and gamblers across the country.

Lametti on Board

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti hasn’t exactly been an advocate for single-event sports betting. His spokesperson commented in January 2020 that gambling reforms were not “immediate priorities” for Parliament.

Sports betting seemed to be an issue that Lametti, among others, simply didn’t want to debate. It can be a contentious issue, as is anything pertaining to gambling expansion.

Lametti’s stance was indicative of the majority of lawmakers in 2020…before the pandemic. Members of Parliament began to take notice when gambling revenue decreased drastically due closures mandated to control the coronavirus. And while sports betting around the world all but disappeared during the two to three months without sports, online sports wagering rebounded quickly.

While online poker and casino games thrived throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns, sports betting was the next best thing with a relatively short absence. Those casinos and operators with traditional parlay-style sports betting online did some business, but many players took their business to offshore sports betting sites to wager on single events.

In the past few months, as a result of all that happened in 2020, organizations and supporters of the movement for single-event sports betting increased the pressure on lawmakers like Lametti.

It worked.

Lametti introduced House Government Bill C-13, “an Act to amend the Criminal Code (single event sports betting).” On November 26, Lametti brought it in for its first reading. The bill is simple:

“This enactment amends paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code to make it lawful for the government of a province or territory, or a licensed person or entity, to conduct and manage in the province or territory a lottery scheme that involves betting on a race – other than a horse-race – or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest.”

Acknowledging Waugh and Masse

As Lametti spoke to introduce his bill, he rightly started with the acknowledgement of the two members of Parliament who spearheaded the movement.

MP Kevin Waugh of Saskatoon Grasswood sponsored Private Members Bill C-218 “with support on all sides of the aisle.” And MP Brian Masse of Windsor West, who worked closely with Waugh to pattern C-218 after his own bill in the previous Parliament. Lametti expressed gratitude for “your leadership, your tenacity, and your graciousness.”

Ever-Growing Support

If it wasn’t clear that single-event sports betting had plenty of support in years past, many organizations stepped forward to make their voices heard in 2020.

In June, the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) released a statement noting the official support for the single sports betting proposal from the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), and Canadian Football League (CFL). They urged “prompt action” to make single-event betting, regulated by the federal and/or provincial governments of Canada, a reality.

The support grew even more right before and after Lametti introduced his bill.

Bragg Gaming Group of Toronto hopes for an end to a “decades-long prohibition on the practice” of single-event sports betting and the movement of the activities to a regulated market.

FansUnite Entertainment hailed it as the “first important step to making sports betting competitive in this country, followed by the potential for outside operators to participate in the Canadian market.”

theScore noted the “clear cross-party support and strong momentum” to amend the outdated laws.

The CGA itself said it was “very pleased” with Lametti’s decision, adding that it has “all-party support” and could “move expediently through the process to completion.”

Niagara Falls was one of many local governments to express excitement at the potential for the market. With broad sports betting available in the United States, Canada casinos couldn’t be competitive. Niagara Falls’ city council had supported sports betting at Canadian casinos since 2011. So, while Major Jim Diodati is grateful that it may finally happen, he noted that “we’re playing catch-up” because so many others are already in that market.

Legislative Goals

In his press conference to introduce the bill, Lametti said that the goal of the legislation is to “bring a common practice out of the shadows and into the open to make it legal, regulated, and safe.”

The latest numbers from the CGA estimate that Canadians spend approximately $10 billion per year on single-event sports betting alone via bookies potentially linked to organized crime and another $4 billion more offshore internet sites that pay no taxes to Canadian governments.

The bill will allow provinces to offer single-event sports betting through their own provincial operations or to license other operators to launch a competitive market. Horse racing, however, will continue to be regulated by the federal government.

Lametti also addressed inquiries by some Indigenous communities to regulate sports betting options themselves. This is a broader discussion regarding all gaming rights for Indigenous nations. In fact, a recent study showed that First Nations establishments need greater freedoms to prosper and earn more revenue. Lametti said, “We need to begin this important conversation now.”

Next Steps

The trajectory of C-13 is unknown at this time, though it will likely depend partially on the holiday schedule and the ability for discussions due to pandemic restrictions.

The Department of Justice Canada, however, did lay out a few issues that must be discussed going forward. Whether these happen before or after the passage of C-13 is unclear.

  • Larger discussions between Government of Canada, provincial and territorial governments, and Indigenous communities about sports betting and gaming regulation in general
  • Talks with provinces, territories, and horse racing industry stakeholders regarding potential impacts of decriminalizing single-event sports betting
  • Communication with provincial and territorial entities on decisions to offer the new wagering online, live, or both
  • Discussions with the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addictions (CCSA) and other organizations that address gambling harm and addiction to implement strategies to deal with a potential increase in Canadians needing support

In May 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled its previous sports betting limitations unconstitutional. The ruling overturned PASPA – Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 – and opened the American market to sports betting as legalized and regulated per state. Canada’s move to do the same is 2.5 years behind the competition across the border, but Canadians welcome it nonetheless.

Roadblocks and delaying tactics seem to be gone in favor of finally legalizing single-event sports betting.

If all moves swiftly, Canadian provinces could establish their own trickle-down regulations in early 2021. That kind of quick movement could welcome the new Canadian sports betting market before the end of 2021.

 

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen

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