Single-Game Betting in Canada Gets Final Approval From Senate, Nearly Legal

C-218 now only needs to receive royal assent before it becomes law. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will then set a date for the legislation to come into force.

Last Updated: Jun 22, 2021 3:54 PM ET Read Time: 4 min
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The Senate of Canada has given its final approval to a bill that will allow provinces to offer single-game sports betting, leaving only a royal blessing before the legislation becomes law and can open up a new avenue of legal wagering in the country. 

A motion for the third and last reading of Bill C-218, the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, was adopted on Tuesday by a vote of 57-20 (as well as five abstentions) in the Senate, the upper house of Canada’s bicameral Parliament.

The private member’s bill now only needs to receive royal assent from Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner (or a deputy) before it becomes law, a step that is more of a formality than a formidable legislative hurdle. 

Once that approval is given, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will set a date for the legislation to come into force. Provinces, meanwhile, will be able to design and implement regulations for how single-game betting will work within their respective borders. 

"These governments have been seeking this change for years, and they are ready to respond to it quickly and responsibly," said Newfoundland and Labrador Sen. David Wells, C-218’s sponsor in the Senate, during a debate last week. "Their regulations and regulatory frameworks are currently in place and would apply to single-event sports betting if this bill passes and the activity can be regulated."

Tuesday’s vote could be a watershed moment for Canada’s gambling industry. 

While sports wagering is legal in Canada, it can only be done via pari-mutuel betting on horse races or in a parlay, with the latter provision aimed at preventing match-fixing. Since the advent of the internet, though, many Canadian gamblers have just decided to place what is estimated to be billions of dollars in bets with offshore and illegal sportsbooks. 

In the meantime, Canada’s neighbour to the south has seen a boom in sports-betting legalization. A 2018 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States has allowed legal sports wagering to flourish, including in states that border Canada and that have casinos that compete with gaming facilities up north. 

Furthermore, professional sports leagues and franchises have increasingly embraced sports betting as a way to draw in fans and bolster their business, particularly after being rattled by the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, and CFL all voiced their support for tweaking Canadian law to allow single-game betting.

The changing attitudes in sports and in the U.S. led to a renewed enthusiasm for single-game betting in Canada.

'A major milestone'

Another attempt at getting a bill that would legalize single-game wagers was begun in February 2020 by Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, who sponsored C-218 in the elected House of Commons. The federal Liberal government also launched its own effort, Bill C-13, which eventually stalled because of C-218's progress. 

Although it received broad political support in the House — including from Trudeau — it was still no small thing to get C-218 passed.

Previous efforts to legalize single-game bets over the past decade or so have come up short, and Parliament is scheduled to recess this week for the summer. If an election was called before C-218 was passed — a possibility that was growing alongside Canada's COVID-19 vaccination rate — it would have wiped out the bill and all the progress it had made.

“This is a major milestone and achievement for the Canadian gaming industry,” said Paul Burns, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Gaming Association, in a press release on Tuesday. “The CGA has been working to legalize single-event sports betting for more than 10 years and Bill C-218 benefited from a groundswell of broad stakeholder support from across Canada.  The need for regulation, oversight, player protection, and the creation of economic benefits for Canada was understood by everyone involved in the legislative process, which is why the Bill was successfully passed.”

There were also attempts to amend C-218 during its time in the Senate, as some members had concerns about match-fixing and Indigenous rights in connection with the bill. Those amendments were ultimately rejected and C-218 passed without any changes, which means it does not have to go back to the House of Commons before it becomes law. 

Over to you, provinces

Now, backers of C-218 hope the legislation will provide a boost to Canada’s COVID-19-hit gaming industry, offer more protection to consumers, and extend domestic regulation and taxation to single-game betting.

"With this change in federal law, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with provincial governments, policymakers, and regulators in crafting policy that benefits taxpayers and provinces, while safeguarding the integrity of games," a spokesperson for BetMGM said. 

It won’t be a one-size-fits-all future, though.

The bill passed Tuesday by the Senate makes it legal for Canada's provinces or those they license to conduct and manage a lottery "scheme" that could involve single-game sports betting, which means it could be offered in different forms depending on the province. Wagering on horse racing would also remain under federal oversight. 

"While we understand there are many steps to come, we look forward to working closely with officials in each province as they continue to develop their approach to legalized sports betting," said Griffin Finan, vice president of government affairs and associate general counsel at DraftKings, in a statement. 

British Columbia Lottery Corp. has said Bill C-218 would allow it to provide single-game betting “almost immediately” on PlayNow.com, an online gambling website that is owned and operated by the Crown corporation.

Ontario, meanwhile, is eyeing sports betting as part of an internet gaming market that would allow private-sector firms to participate and that the province hopes to launch this year.

"We have been actively preparing for the expansion of online sports betting and iGaming in our home province of Ontario, which is expected to commence later this year, and we are very favorably positioned to succeed given our mobile betting experience and vast active user base," said John Levy, chairman and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Score Media and Gaming Inc., in a press release. "Further, we are excited to broaden our relationship with the millions of loyal fans who already know, trust and engage with theScore app across Canada." 

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