The time is ripe for a change in the sports betting laws in Canada
Since 2010 I have been covering the subject of single game sports betting in Canada and every time it seemed a bill was introduced to legalize betting on individual games, it was invariably defeated. The first bill to be heard in the House of Commons was C-290. It was introduced by NDP MP Joe Comartin and was expected to be quickly defeated. Instead, The House passed the bill with all party support and was sent to the Senate in 2012 to be ratified. Upon introducing the bill, Comartin stated that Caesars Windsor and other U.S. border casinos needed an advantage over U.S. counterparts to draw more Americans to the casinos. He also felt it would bring in Canadian sports bettors as well. Comartin said it would create jobs and there was no real harm in allowing sports betting, since Canadians and Americans were betting illegally on sports offshore and with illegal local bookmakers anyway.
To be ratified the Senate had to simply agree with the House to strike out the words "single sport event" from section 207 4(b)of the Canadian Criminal Code. Doing so would make wagering on single games legal, but as it stands, the only legal form of sports wagering is on parlays of three games or more conducted through provincial lotteries. Despite receiving unanimous support from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the NDP Party, the Senate refused to just rubber stamp the bill into law as they always had with similar bills in the past due to several factors. For one, the Liberal dominated Senate were reeling from the 2011 Federal election where the Liberal Party was reduced to 3rd party status with only 37 of the 257 seats available. So, many Liberal Senators were feeling rejected and wanted to assert their authority and they felt this bill was a low-risk way of doing so, since most Canadians probably didn't care about sports betting. Second, the Senate was being severely criticized because of a spending scandal which was causing many Canadians, including the Prime Minister, to question their relevance and wondering if the Senate should be abolished. And third, sports leagues, spearheaded by the NHL, were asking senators not to pass the bill for fear it would hurt the integrity of the games. Some senators were also upset that the bill was passed in the House on a voice call without discussion and a formal vote, so in the end the Senate simply stalled the bill, where it died on the table.
In 2016, Brian Masse, another NDP MP from Windsor brought up the bill again as C-221, but The House, now led by Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party, defeated the bill 156-133. No reason was really given for the defeat, although it's believed that the Liberals knew their counterparts in the Senate put their reputations on the line in stalling the bill, so they simply didn't want to rock the boat. There was also no love lost between the Liberal Party and the NDP, and this was an NDP initiative.
Last week Masse again tried to get support for his bill, but is trying a new tactic by using a different party to introduce the motion. Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kevin Waugh is reintroducing Mass's bill as C-218, the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act. The wording is identical to the bills from Masse and Comartin and Waugh is using offshore betting as the main reason for this bill, saying that single game sports betting already exists and that 95% of betting is done offshore or underground and contributes nothing to education, communities and harm reduction initiatives. Waugh also said anyone who questions whether single game sports betting really exists is behind the times. Waugh’s comments can be heard here.
Can a single-game sports betting bill pass?
So, if Waugh's private member bill is heard in The House can it pass? The answer is yes. Let's be clear that Waugh drew a low number, so it likely won't get to a vote. But, if it does, there are several reasons to believe it will pass.
First and foremost, the Liberals were reduced to a minority government in the last election and both the Conservatives and NDP have shown they support the bill. And if the NDP and Conservatives all vote for the bill, it will pass. The Conservative's reasoning for supporting the bill is that single game sports betting it is already happening, so governments may as well benefit from it. And the NDP's reasoning is that it will save union jobs in casinos and at construction companies. As well, while most Liberals voted against the last bill from Masse, there were also quite a few who supported the bill and most of the ones who opposed it were defeated in the last federal election.
Second, the sports leagues have resigned themselves to legal sports betting. In the U.S. most leagues, including the NHL, have indicated they no longer oppose betting on their games and have signed partnership deals with betting companies to help get a piece of the pie. And it would be highly hypocritical to support betting in the U.S., but not Canada.
And lastly, with the Supreme Court in the U.S. having repealed PASPA, Canada is really in a situation where they have to allow single game sports betting not only to compete, but also to survive. The Seneca Casino in Niagara Falls, New York has just opened a sports betting lounge and by all accounts it has been flourishing with visitors from both New York State and Canada attending to wager on their favorite sports. And with Michigan just approving sports betting, it is only a matter of time before Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie have sports betting at their casinos, which would certainly attract sports bettors from Canada. Plus, as other border states like Minnesota, Washington, Maine and Vermont legalize sports betting, Canadians will almost certainly flock there too. If this continues it would certainly eat into Canadian casino revenues.
Paul Burns, the CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association likely summed it up best.
"We can’t afford to ignore the issue and continue with laws that are outdated, non-competitive and afford no consumer protection. Now is the time for change."
So, let's hope that Waugh's private member bill is heard in The House and does get approved. It's about time for single game sports betting to finally be legalized in Canada.