Canada is one step closer to legalizing single-event sports betting after on Thursday night legislation that would legalize gambling on single games of football, hockey and other sports returned to the House of Commons for the third time, having survived a review by the Commons’ Justice and Human Rights Committee. Now, the proposed legislation, Bill C-218, that would amend the Criminal Code so as to make Las Vegas-style single-sports betting legal, will advance to Canada’s Senate.
Currently, Canadian law allows only parlay wagering, meaning bettors must wager on at least two events, however, if The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act (Bill C-218) becomes federal law, provinces and territories in the North American country would be able to regulate both in-person and online bets on the outcome of individual sports events. At present, the only single sporting event that can be bet on legally are horse races.
Private member’s bill:
Introduced in Parliament by Kevin Waugh (pictured, below right), MP for Saskatoon-Grasswoodin, in February 2020, as a private member’s bill, the legislation is an attempt to protect people, athletes, and the integrity of the games and to win back customers from offshore sites, U.S. casinos and illegal bookmakers in what is a multibillion-dollar black market. According to the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), 2020 saw an estimated C$15 billion waged by Canadians, with only 3 percent, or C$450 million, of that bet legally, while the lion’s share went to illegal bookmaking operations and to offshore online sports wagering sites.
A recent analysis (pdf) by Deloitte Canada, a professional services firms that provides audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services, suggests that within five years from legalization, sports betting in Canada could grow from $500 million to nearly C$28 billion in legal-market wagering.
On Thursday, Waugh reportedly told members of the House that the bill “has the potential to unlock new growth opportunities, reduce illegal betting and generate revenues for both the sporting industry and governments,” according to a source.
While enthusiastically backed by MPs in all four parties, this isn’t the first go-round in the House of Commons for the private member’s bill, after nearly a decade ago legislation similar to Bill C-128 blazed through the House with support from all parties only to die in the Senate in 2015 when an election was called. The following year, a second attempt also failed when New Democrat MP Brian Masse’s Conservative-backed private member’s Bill-CG90 was voted down by the then-ruling Liberal Party. Fast forward to November 2020, when Liberals dropped their own attempt at legislation when Waugh agreed to an amendment to keep Canada’s parimutuel betting system for horse racing untouched.
According to the Canadian Press via Sportsnet, the legislation garnered support from industry, advocates, and athletic organizations, including the CGA; Responsible Gambling Council; Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union; and the Canadian Olympic Committee. The media outlet further reports that Justice Minister David Lametti said in an emailed statement that the changes are fully supported by the Liberals, and are “eager to see them move forward,” and that…
“The changes put forward would help take illegal betting profits from single-sporting events out of the hands of organized crime, and give provinces and territories the ability to regulate and redirect the funds back into our communities.”
Level playing field:
According to sportsnet.ca, Waugh said the main goal of Bill C-218 is to even the playing field globally against large foreign sites such as British online gambling company Bet365 and the Calvin Ayre-founded Bodog, which is headquartered in Antigua and Barbuda, that garner in excess of $4 billion annually from Canadians, according to the CGA.
Meanwhile, Yahoo Finance reports that advancement of the bill has brought on a wave of investment in Canadian companies looking to take advantage of what is expected to be a sizeable base of gamblers in the country. Companies like Bragg Gaming Group (BRAG.TO), Score Media and Gaming (SCR.TO)(SCR), and FansUnite Entertainment (FANS.CN) have each reportedly seen their shares rise based on the hope that the legal betting market in Canada will mirror the exponential growth the U.S. has seen since the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban in 2018, according to the source.
In a statement on Thursday night, Chief Executive Officer for Score Media, John Levy reportedly said, “Now that Bill C-218 has been passed by the House, we look forward to the Senate swiftly carrying the ball over the goal line.” The Toronto-based digital media company estimates Canada’s market potential for online gaming to be between US$3.8 billion and US$5.4 billion in yearly gross gaming revenue. Yahoo Finance further reports that even major American sports betting companies such as DraftKings (DKNG) are taking notice of what is anticipated to be a robust market in Canada.
Hard-hit by COVID-19, casinos in Canada might also benefit if the sports betting bill passes, however, the country’s provinces will determine how single-event bets should be regulated.
While Senate sitting day is slated for May 4, the upper house of the Parliament generally addresses government legislation before dealing with private member’s bills, according to Sportsnet.
Betting on single sporting events in Canada is currently prohibited by the Criminal Code via section 207 (4) (b), and efforts to repeal the provision have been ongoing for the better part of the last decade.
According to a March 2021, American Gaming Association (AGA) press release, 25 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized sports betting, with 21 legal markets operational, while 17 states currently have active or pre-filed legislation to legalize sports betting.