Canadian Senate finally passes single game sports betting bill

Hartley takes a look at the passing of a bill to legalize and regulate single game sports betting in Canada.

Single game sports betting is coming to Canada, finally!

Bill C-218 which was introduced by Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kevin Waugh passed through the Senate on Tuesday lending the way for single game sports betting to become law once it receives Royal Assent which should be a non-issue. The bill, which passed the Senate by a 57-20 margin, removes a line in the criminal code which currently disallows wagering on single sporting events or contests. While Waugh has taken credit for the bill, similar versions of the bill were introduced by NDP MPs beginning in 2010, and that actually passed in the House with all party support. The bill was expected to breeze through the Senate, but instead the Senate quashed it for political reasons. The bill was reintroduced in the House in 2015, but it was defeated badly by the new majority Liberal government who weren't going to go against the Senate, which was made up mostly of Liberal appointees.

Canada Bill C-218 passageIn December of 2020 the Liberals finally saw the light and realized that continuing its efforts to defeat single game sports betting was counterproductive, as the United States Supreme Court had already struck down PASPA, the sports leagues removed their opposition to sports betting in Canada, and the provinces started demanding the right to offer gambling as they see fit. Moreover, the majority Liberal government was reduced to a minority and, as mentioned, the Conservatives and NDP already indicated their support of the criminal code amendment. Thus, when the Liberal Justice Minister indicated his support for Bill C-218 it was inevitable that the House and Senate would not try to stop it. It is unclear at the moment which 20 Senators voted against the bill or which five Senators abstained, but it's safe to say they included many of the same Senators who voted against the bill the first time to save face and not look like hypocrites.

Once the bill becomes law, it will be left to the provinces to decide the rules and regulations pertaining to who gets to offer sports betting and what regulations will be in place. While it's a given that existing casinos will be allowed to offer the product, there is still much discussion about entertaining bids from successful offshore companies as well, including the likes of Bet365, William Hill, DraftKings and FanDuel. If UK bookmakers and possibly even Caribbean sportsbooks, like Pinnacle Sports, can offer their product without teaming up with an existing land-based facility, this will be a drastically different approach than the United States, which has required companies to be partners with existing U.S. casinos or racetracks. But many analysts note that Canadians bet almost $10 billion illegally and offshore every year and the right approach is to entertain bids from companies that will maximize revenues for government coffers.

At the SBC Digital Conference on January 9th in a session titled "Betting on Canada – is this the year?", Paul Burns, the President and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association argued that provinces would be far better off holding a truly open bidding process and allowing anyone that can help maximize profits run the sports betting, while Benjie Levy, the COO of The Score (who are almost certainly going to get a license), suggested opening it up to non-Canadian companies may be folly. Nevertheless Levy laughed that if the provinces do entertain bids from non-Canadian businesses, "I welcome the competition." Stan Cho, the MPP for Willowdale and Parliamentary Assistant for the Ministry of Finance in Ontario, seemed to side with Burns which could be an indication which way Canada's largest province is leaning, while Shelley White, the CEO of the Responsible Gambling Council simply wanted the option that would protect players the most. The other panelist Ron Segev, a lawyer made arguments both ways.

So, it is now just a matter of weeks or months before the current restriction on single game sports betting is repealed and it may be ideal timing since Canada seems to finally be getting a hold of the pandemic with the number of Covid cases and deaths in the country dropping, thanks in most part to vaccinations. And the CFL, which plans to start its season in July, will likely benefit the most from single game sports betting. As well, Canadian teams in the NHL and MLS, along with the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays will also likely see an uptick in interest once Canadians can bet on their games too and undoubtedly the Canadian sports teams will make merchandising and other deals with the sportsbooks to help increase their revenues.

For Canadian sports fans and bettors this is an exciting time, even if the single game sports betting bill was passed a decade longer than it should have been.

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