Friday will be a new day for Canada, both in a literal sense and in a much more gambling-related way.
That’s because, as of midnight on August 27, single-game sports wagering will be legal in the country. At that time, provinces and territories will be free to conduct and manage such betting within their borders on everything except horse racing.
The change will be one of the biggest for Canada’s gaming industry in its recent history. Moreover, it follows a decade-long campaign to undo the country's parlay-only model of legal sports betting and tap into the billions of dollars in wagers Canadians are estimated to be placing with offshore and illegal sportsbooks.
Several legislative efforts came up short before a private member’s bill, C-218, made it over the finish line in Parliament back in June. Justice Minister David Lametti then announced earlier this month that the new law, also known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, will come into force on August 27 — this Friday.
"Provinces and territories will be able to offer single-event sport betting products like wagering on the Grey Cup, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, or the Super Bowl," Lametti said.
So, how can Canadians legally make a single-game wager this weekend?
While in some provinces it's a bit fuzzy, the information out there thus far suggests options will be pretty limited to start. Canadian sports bettors hoping they will be able to download mobile apps on Friday from DraftKings or BetMGM and immediately start placing legal bets are going to be out of luck, at least for now.
Provinces are free to offer single-game sports betting (or license companies to do the same), but that doesn’t mean they are about to immediately throw open their respective markets to names that have become well known, even among Canadians. Those private-sector firms will have to wait for an invitation.
Instead, the first place many Canadian bettors will be able to make legal single-game wagers will be with government-owned lottery corporations.
For instance, in Canada’s most populous province, the first out of the gate will be Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. The company is launching a new “PROLINE+” on August 27 that will allow players to place single-event wagers on the government-owned entity's website.
“PROLINE+ will offer expansive betting options with new sports, new markets and new ways to bet including live wagering with dynamic competitive odds,” OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti told Covers in a recent email. "We will deliver an exciting digital sports experience with betting innovations rolling out over the coming weeks and months, including novelty bets which will be phased in after launch."
It's a similar story in Canada's second-most populous province, Québec. There, Loto-Québec has said that starting on August 27, single-game bets will be available online and at lottery retailers via the corporation’s “Mise-o-jeu” game.
“For example, it will be possible to bet (online) on the outcome of a single game, the total number of goals, the winning team in the first period or the number of points or touchdowns scored by a player,” the lottery said in an August 12 press release. “At retail outlets, the new option will be available for the main questions for major leagues, and it will gradually be expanded over time.”
Out west, British Columbia Lottery Corp. has said players will be able to start making single-game wagers on the company’s PlayNow website starting on Friday. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp. says their PlayNow website, which was developed by BCLC, is ready to launch single-event betting on Friday as well.
"PlayNow.com players will soon have the option to wager on the outcome of just a single game or match, or to place wagers on the outcomes of single fights and races," spokesperson Susan Harrison said in an email. "Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries is also exploring additional opportunities where single event sports betting could potentially be offered."
Give it time?
Other provinces are still piecing together their plans.
"While the federal decriminalization of single-event sports betting brings with it promising opportunities, it is important to remember that sports betting will be regulated at the provincial level," lawyers from Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP wrote on August 17. "At this stage, not all provinces have firmly established how they intend to regulate single-event sports betting within their borders."
The East Coast provinces are likely to begin with a purely lottery-run model of single-game sports betting.
Atlantic Lottery Corp. — owned by Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island — offers parlay sports betting through its PRO•LINE game, but a spokesperson recently said the company is working towards launching single-game wagering.
“The announcement of the Aug. 27 effective date was another step in the process of bringing this new product to players and we’re working with our provincial shareholders towards this timeline to be able to provide this option in Atlantic Canada,” Atlantic Lottery’s Greg Weston said last week in an email. “Each province determines what products will be offered to players and we will be sure to let players know when it becomes available.”
(Update: Atlantic Lottery announced on Friday that it is now offering single-event sports betting both online and at retail locations in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island.)
In Alberta, the plan involves offering single-game betting through government-owned PlayAlberta.ca at some point this year, although exactly when is unclear.
“Play Alberta is working on exciting sports betting options for players and will have more to announce regarding the integration of sports betting on the website later this month,” Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis told Covers in an email last week.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are also part of the Western Canada Lottery Corp., a non-profit that runs lottery and gaming-related activities for its members, including sports betting through its Sport Select game. Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut are associate members of the corporation as well.
Western Canada Lottery says it plans on adding single-event wagers this year to Sport Select, which is offered using authorized retailers.
"Single-event wagering will be available later in the fall; we’ve decided to package it with a number of other improvements we’re bringing to SPORT SELECT including real-time odds, expanded two-game parlays, the ability to combine different sports and bet types on a single ticket, and futures wagering," WCLC spokesperson John Towns said in an email.
We continue to explore additional opportunities to implement single-event sports betting across our land-based channels, including at casinos, retail, and hospitality locations in B.C. We will have more info to share about this in the near future (2/2).— BCLC (@BCLC) August 12, 2021
Although legal single-game sports wagering in Canada will be tightly managed to start, it will likely loosen up over time. Betting options will be expanded, including the addition of brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.
In B.C., the province’s lottery corporation says it is looking at ways to bring single-game wagering into casinos and retail locations. Alberta is eyeing its in-person betting opportunities, too.
“In addition to integrating single-event sports wagering into PlayAlberta.ca in 2021, adjusting the Criminal Code to allow for betting on a single event would give AGLC the ability to work with its industry stakeholders to offer sports wagering in destination facilities throughout Alberta,” AGLC acting president and chief executive Kandice Machado wrote to the Senate of Canada’s banking, trade and commerce committee in June. “This expansion could provide a much-needed boost to our gaming industry partners, which have seen revenue greatly affected by the impacts of the pandemic.”
Saskatchewan could ultimately have in-person and online wagering provided by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, a non-profit corporation and operator of seven casinos in the province. Zane Hansen, SIGA's president and CEO, told a June meeting of the Senate of Canada's banking, trade and commerce committee that they'd recently agreed on terms to provide a provincewide app for online gaming.
Government-owned Saskatchewan Gaming Corp. (which operates two casinos of its own that are not yet ready to offer single-event sports betting) told Covers they are still hammering out the details.
"SaskGaming, on behalf of the government, has been working with SIGA to explore the options for the delivery of online gaming opportunities in Saskatchewan, opportunities which can be expected to include single-event sports betting," said Susan Flett, president and CEO of SaskGaming, in a statement. "While no specific mechanisms have been finalized to allow for this in Saskatchewan, we will continue to work with SIGA and other stakeholders towards making this a reality."
A place to grow
Ontario, meanwhile, is set to become a testing ground for the rest of Canada.
OLG’s Bitonti said the lottery corporation is working with service providers — which include Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment — on the possibiliy of sports betting in casinos, such as those in Niagara Falls.
“It is important to OLG to support our gaming service providers that wish to establish sports betting capabilities in casinos,” Bitonti added. “We are in active dialogue with them and look forward to creating exciting new experiences for sports betting enthusiasts in our casinos.”
But the biggest prize of all may be online betting in Ontario, a province with a population that would make it the fifth-largest state in the U.S.
Ontario's government also has a dog-eat-dog vision for internet gaming. The province is developing a competitive iGaming market in which private-sector firms could offer games to players in return for giving the government a cut of their revenues.
This market will include sports betting, meaning some of the big names south of the Canada-U.S. border could get licensed in Ontario, start signing up players, and start taking their bets. Currently, the only online casino in Canada that's regulated by the province is OLG's iGaming website.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario posted an application guide for would-be iGaming operators last week that noted that there will be an annual regulatory fee of $100,000 per gaming site and that applicants can choose a one or two-year term.
With the AGCO trying to nudge iGaming activity over to the province's regulated model (in what it hopes will be "a business-like transition"), the guide also said the watchdog "is committed to taking strong action to address any remaining unregulated Ontario market activity in partnership with law enforcement."
Those who apply to participate in the new market before it launches will have to stop any unregulated operations in Ontario if and when they're issued a registration by the regulator. They will have to cut any ties to companies that continue to operate in the unregulated market as well.
“An entity that has not applied for registration by the date of the launch of the regulated Ontario iGaming scheme and either continues to operate in the unregulated market in Ontario, and/or continues to have associations with other entities that continue to do so, risks not having their application for registration approved,” the guide adds.
Proclamation of Bill C-218 paves the way for regulated single-event sports betting in Ontario. https://t.co/qWQkjGYLKa— AGCO (@Ont_AGCO) August 13, 2021
The application window for Ontario’s new iGaming market “will open in the coming weeks,” the guide said.
Even then, it isn’t scheduled to launch until December. In the meantime, Ontarians’ only legal option for single-game sports betting would be OLG.
So, yes, it will soon be a new day for Canadian sports bettors. For the near future, though, that new day is going to look a lot like the ones that came before it.
"In terms of the speed of change, and particularly with governments, we're going 90 miles an hour, and it's a top priority," Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey told Covers earlier this month. "Even when I say December, that's pretty fast for government."