Sports betting in Canada quietly got a big boost earlier this week, and that boost was amplified Friday morning by a release from the Canadian Gaming Association. A joint statement from the commissioners of several major sports leagues – the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and CFL – offered support for an amendment to Canada’s criminal code that would allow betting on single sporting events.
The backing from those commissioners is seen as a linchpin to getting standard sports betting across the finish line in Canada, where for the moment, legal wagering is only available via provincial lotteries, which only permits parlay play.
“It is significant. These are really the only organizations that raised opposition in previous attempts to do this,” CGA president Paul Burns told Covers. “This has backing from everyone else. There’s a broad coalition of support behind this. Professional sports leagues were the last major stakeholders that were opposed.”
In 2012, the C290 legislation that would have legalized single-event wagering drew unanimous support in the House of Commons, then went to the Senate, where it was tabled for three years, killing the bill. That was historic for Canada, marking the first time legislation unanimously passed in the House, then failed to get through the Senate.
Speculation at the time was that, rather than take a vote and be at odds with either the major sports leagues or the overwhelming majority who favored legal sports betting, the Senate chose neither. With several key sports leagues now formally on board, that hurdle is cleared.
What does the Canada Sports betting bill do?
Currently, Canada’s criminal code states that single-event wagering is illegal. Bill C218, currently before the House, though delayed by the COVID-19 shutdown, would override that specific code, in much the same way that the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 2018 decision struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. That ruling cleared the way for the expansion of legal, regulated sports betting in the U.S.
“It’s an amendment to the Canadian constitution. The amendment removes the restriction on betting on the outcome of a single sporting event,” Burns said. “Being able to have a more robust offering is what the public is looking for.”
As in the U.S., should Bill C218 pass, Canadian provinces would then be allowed to choose how they wish to proceed with legal sports betting. But further legislation at the provincial level wouldn’t be required, unlike in the U.S., where each state needs to craft sports betting legislation.
“So this could happen really quickly,” Burns said, adding Canada’s gaming and hospitality industries could use that speed now more than ever, due to the economic impact of the past three months. “For gaming and hospitality, it would be huge to come out with a new product, coming out of the COVID shutdown. For the CFL, it’s a great tool for them, providing access to a new revenue stream.”
The commissioners of the major sports leagues operating in Canada have released a statement supporting an amendment to Canada's federal laws to allow provinces to offer betting on single sporting events— Covers (@Covers) June 12, 2020
Get this done!@JustinTrudeau @Bill_Morneau @DavidLametti @CanadianGaming pic.twitter.com/U3FPSy62sD
How much money would single-game wagering generate in Canada?
Burns said the CGA estimates that $15 billion is bet on sports in Canada annually, via offshore online sites or illegal bookmakers. Canadian legal gaming operators obviously see none of that, nor does the government recognize any tax revenue.
“Being able to repatriate some of those funds, expand the markets, we think it’s a tremendous opportunity for the gaming and hospitality sector in Canada,” Burns said, noting he hopes Parliament – operating on a reduced schedule due to the shutdown – can advance the bill by fall. “What the leagues are trying to do is help us expedite this issue. It’s a great tool that costs the government nothing. It’s a simple regulatory change that has broad impact.”