Canadian Bill On Single-Game Sports Betting Tabled Until After Christmas

While Canadian gaming advocates have been pleased with the rapid developments in legislation on single-event sports betting in recent weeks, supporters of a closely watched bill will have to wait until after Christmas for political leaders to complete a key procedural step.

On Friday, members of the House of Commons of Canada adjourned for the Christmas break without hearing debate on single-game sports wagering. Debate on the bill, C-13, is expected to resume in late January when House members return from vacation.

Unlike previous incarnations over the last decade, the bill appears to have garnered widespread bipartisan support across both sides of the aisle. This week, however, House debate concerning expanded access to medical assistance in dying took precedence, and efforts to advance the gambling legislation stalled.

“It’s not a huge deal, as the bill can be picked up in January with no threats to it,” a Canadian gambling expert told Sports Handle. “We were never certain about a vote before [Christmas]. It doesn’t require lengthy debate, so it can move quickly.”

Little concern with slight pause

Prior to this week’s session, there was some optimism among supporters of the bill that it could be passed in the House before the end of the calendar year. Their optimism grew after Justice Minister David Lametti introduced the legislation on Nov. 26, when the bill received first reading. The Canadian parliamentary system requires a bill to go through three readings in the House of Commons before it is adopted and sent to the Senate.

The bill seeks to amend Section 202 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which prohibits single-game sports betting. Another section, Section 204, contains an exemption that allows provincial governments to offer parlay wagers through a lottery scheme.

“We are pleased to see the support that the bill has received since it’s been introduced, and we hope that all leaders will work together to pass these changes expeditiously,” a spokesperson for Lametti’s office wrote in a statement provided to Sports Handle.

Trimming the illegal market

Lametti, who was first elected as the Member of Parliament for LaSalle-Émard-Verdun in 2015, spent nearly 20 years as a law professor at McGill University before entering politics. Lametti also holds a law degree from Yale University and a doctor of philosophy in law from Oxford University. The federal electoral district represents Quebec.

Lametti’s legislation “took over,” a previous bill, C-218, sponsored by House member Kevin Waugh (Conservative, Saskatoon-Grasswood). Upon introduction, Lametti emphasized that the objective of the bill is simple: to move Canadian single-game betting into a legal, regulated environment. Single-game betting refers to wagering on a certain event such as the Super Bowl or the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, unlike parlay betting which encompasses propositions on several outcomes at once.

Ultimately, it is Lametti’s goal to reduce the influence of the illegal, offshore market. According to estimates from the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), bettors in Canada spend approximately C$10 billion ($7.82 billion U.S.) per year on single-event sport wagering among bookmakers connected to organized crime. Canadians, according to the CGA, bet an additional C$4 billion ($3.3 billion) on single-game sports through illegal, offshore websites. At present, Canadian bettors also spend about C$500 million annually through legal provincial sports lottery products, the CGA found.

“Our Government knows that in order for gambling to take place in a safe and responsible way, it must be properly regulated,” Lametti’s spokesperson wrote in the statement.

“The changes we are proposing would give Canada’s provinces and territories the ability to regulate single-sport betting. By taking illegal betting profits out of the hands of organized crime, revenues could instead be directed towards health care and education initiatives, as has been done with other lottery revenues. These changes would also create opportunities to work with Indigenous communities to strengthen their participation in the gaming industry.”

The odds of passage grew slimmer by the minute on Wednesday evening amid efforts by a faction opposing the assisted suicide legislation to filibuster the bill. But the medical assistance bill passed on Thursday by a 212-107 margin, paving the way for a potential debate on expanded sports betting. Although Windsor West MP Brian Masse urged his colleagues to consider the bill in Friday’s session, House members apparently ran out of time.

Policy shift

Lametti’s bill to decriminalize single-game sports betting provides newfound hope for gaming advocates felled for years by resistance at the federal level. In contrast to previous attempts, the bill has backing from the government itself — authored by a member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party. In 2016, another bill, known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, was defeated decisively in the House of Commons, amid concerns of match fixing raised by some Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs).

When Lametti introduced the measure, he even fielded a question on the assurances in his bill that protect athletic competitions from corruption, given that the average salary for first-year players in the CFL hovers around $53,000 a year. In response, Lametti argued that a legal scheme regulated by the provinces helps reduce the possibility of match-fixing due to the enhanced visibility from tracking wagers in a public fashion.

In spite of the resounding 2016 defeat, there was never a groundswell of opposition to the measure, said Paul Burns, who serves as the president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association. Instead, the concerns resided with individual members of the Liberal Party, who took issue with gambling in general, not sports betting per se, he added.

Fast forward to today’s climate in the post-PASPA era, where leaders from several parties appear to have found common ground on single-game betting legislation. Take the efforts in Ontario, for instance. Last December, Irek Kusmierczyk, a Liberal MP (Windsor-Tecumseh), began working with Masse, a member of the New Democratic Party, on attempts to draft a bill. Masse has been one of the nation’s most ardent supporters of single-game sports betting in recent years.

“That is the exciting part, we now have all party alignment in the House of Commons, and the government that is controlling the agenda is the one that is driving the bill,” Burns told Sports Handle.

A competitive open market for iGaming in Ontario?

Separately, there are indications in Ontario that certain political leaders will take steps to end a monopoly the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) currently maintains on the online gambling market inside the province. When Ontario unveiled its fiscal year budget, the provincial government included a section on single-game wagering, a critical development in expanding sports betting throughout Canada’s most-populated province. An open market for iGaming in Ontario could bring upwards of C$545 million in annual revenue approximately five years after implementation, research from Vixio GamblingCompliance stated.

The Province will also continue to engage with the federal government to encourage the legalization of single-event sports wagering. Legal single-event sports wagering would help support the growth of a competitive online gambling market in the province, and as a popular form of wagering, would also benefit other parts of the gaming sector. — 2020 Ontario Budget

Last week, Burns appeared on a panel at Betting On Sports America focused on iGaming and sports betting advancement in Canada. On the same panel, Dave Phillips, COO of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), noted that the province has advocated for single-game sports betting for a period of at least a decade. Another panelist, Ron Segev, a founding partner at Segev LLP, described the enormous scope of the Ontario market, considering the province has a population roughly double that of New Jersey.

The size of the Ontario market is not lost on top sportsbook operators such as DraftKings. During the company’s third-quarter earnings call with equities analysts in November, CEO Jason Robins outlined the company’s interest in the market.

“We have a very nice size user base there, and we think it could be a really great opportunity,” Robins said. “We’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to add both sports betting and iGaming in Ontario sometime next year.”

As Michigan nears the rollout of online sports betting, Windsor-area casinos are feeling the heat. One casino near the border, Caesars Windsor, is a stone’s throw from the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor.

In Canada, the onus for licensing and regulating all forms of legal gambling falls upon provincial governments. If single-event sports betting is eventually legalized, five provincial lottery corporations will likely face the responsibility of regulating the activity. All five — the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC), British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), Loto-Québec, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLGC), and Western Canada Lottery Corporation (WCLC) — offer parlay-style sports wagering products at the moment.

“If C-13 is legalized, BCLC would work with our casino service providers, regulators and partners in government to deliver the best playing experience possible for British Columbians across our online and land-based channels,” a BCLC spokesman wrote in an email to Sports Handle.

In the event that single-game sports betting is legalized, the activity could generate between $125 million and $175 million in annual revenue for the province, according to BCLC estimates.

Timeline for potential implementation in 2021

As the Canadian gaming industry turns to 2021, the timeline for implementation is still unclear. Burns is optimistic that widespread single-game sports wagering will be available at some point in 2021, with Labor Day as a reasonable target. The holiday represents the intersection of a number of disparate events on the sports calendar, namely the start of the 2021 NFL regular season. Other events such as the 2021 U.S. Open in tennis, the MLB playoffs, the CFL playoffs and the start of the English Premier League, NBA, and NHL seasons all take place during the fall calendar.

With bipartisan support on both the federal and provincial levels, gaming advocates are finally confident that a bill on single-game sports betting can pass through the legislative process with a fair amount of alacrity.

“We now have an alignment,” Burns told Sports Handle. “It truly puts them on a path to getting it done quicker.”

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