Canadian Senators Propose Sports Betting Tweaks in Wake of Single-Game Legalization

There is no guarantee the proposed legislative tweaks become law. However, the fact they were proposed suggests Canadian lawmakers are increasingly training their sights on the boom in online gambling in their backyard.

Jun 21, 2023 • 09:52 ET • 4 min read
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The second anniversary of an overhaul to legal sports betting in the Great White North is nearly upon us, and members of the Canadian Senate are now trying to tidy up some of the loose ends caused by the decriminalization of single-game wagering. 

Two bills introduced on Tuesday would make those tweaks. Bill S-268, sponsored by Alberta Senator Scott Tannas, would amend Canada’s Criminal Code so that the governing body of an Indigenous First Nation could run retail and online sports betting sites on its reserve and license similar operations by others. 

Ontario Senator Marty Deacon also introduced Bill S-269, which would require the Canadian heritage minister to develop a national framework for sports-betting advertising. That framework would look at ways to restrict those ads, such as limiting their number, as well as capping or banning the use of celebrities and athletes in sportsbook marketing. 

S-269 would also require the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to review its various rules and policies to determine their effectiveness in reducing any harm caused by the recent spike in advertising for sports betting.

“The reality is you cannot sit down in this country to enjoy a sport without being exposed to a barrage of such advertising,” Deacon told CTV News. “These ads, though, are much more than just annoying, and they can lead to addictions and other harms, through gambling problems.”

The single-game betting boom

There is no guarantee the proposed legislative tweaks become law. However, the fact they were proposed suggests Canadian lawmakers are increasingly training their sights on the boom in online gambling in their backyard. In Ottawa and Ontario, legislators have recently begun introducing bills to further regulate the growing business of internet wagering.

It was the passage of Bill C-218 by the Canadian Senate in June 2021 that paved the way for the expansion of event wagering in the country. 

Before the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act was law, provincially-owned lottery and gaming corporations had a legal monopoly on online gambling in Canada, but they could not accept action on single games. Meanwhile, sites that may have been regulated somewhere, but not by Canadian government authorities, were available across the country and offering single-game wagering their legal competitors could not. 

C-218 enabled provincial lotteries and gaming companies to offer single-game betting and fight on a level playing field with the so-called “grey market.” One province, though, has taken it a step further.

Blazing a new trail

Indeed, the effects of C-218’s passage have been most evident with Ontario sports betting, as Canada's most populous province opened a competitive market for online gambling in April 2022 that has allowed dozens of private-sector operators to legally take action from residents. Some of those operators were previously taking bets from Ontarians without provincial approval.  

Ontario has successfully shifted most of that grey market activity into its regulated market. There is even data that suggests a large majority of wagering is taking place through those provincially regulated channels. 

But the iGaming experiment in Ontario (no other province has followed suit yet) prompted a burst of advertising by the dozens of operators and sites that are now legally available in the province. That has rubbed some residents the wrong way and prompted lawmakers and regulators to propose changes to marketing rules. 

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) got the ball rolling by proposing to ban the use of athletes and certain celebrities in iGaming advertising. A decision about the finalized regulations should come shortly. 

In the meantime, opposition lawmakers at Queen’s Park have tabled a bill to ban iGaming advertising altogether. The “Ban iGaming Advertising Act” would do as its name suggests and prohibit the promotion of online gambling sites. Any violation would be met with fines of between $25,000 and $1 million. 

“The provincial government and the gaming companies have a responsibility to ensure people vulnerable to addiction, including our youth, are not inundated by ads,” New Democratic Member of Provincial Parliament Lisa Gretzky said during a press conference at the legislature earlier this month.

Yet Gretzky and her fellow sponsors in the NDP caucus lack a majority of seats at Queen’s Park, meaning their legislation will require support from the governing Progressive Conservatives if it is to have any hope of passing. There is no indication from the government yet that they will back the bill. 

The same goes for the bills in the Senate, which have a long way to go before they become law— if they ever do at all. 

With regards to Bill S-268, the lack of explicit acknowledgment of the gaming rights of First Nations was a point of debate during the process in the summer of 2021 to pass Bill C-218, which authorized single-game wagering in Canada. The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke (MCK), which runs its own gaming commission from its lands near Montreal, warned the absence of Indigenous recognition could harm its economy. 

Since then, the MCK has launched a legal challenge of Ontario’s iGaming market. The council also said recently that it has made "several attempts" to speak with the federal government about a legislative carve-out for "First Nation-led gaming" in Canada without success. 

“The MCK will continue to remain vocal and fight for our jurisdiction in this industry,” Ratsénhaienhs (elected Council Chief) Michael Delisle Jr. said in a recent press release. “We have been leaders in the gaming industry for over 25 years, and we aren’t going anywhere!”

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