Canada Considers Single Event Sports Betting

A bill seeking to legalize single-event sports betting in Canada has been introduced to the House of Commons to capitalize on the North American boom. This is the third time that a sports betting bill has been introduced to parliament in a decade.

Ice Hockey players huddle together on ice rink.

Canada’s House of Commons will consider a bill to legalize single event sports betting for the third time in a decade in a bid to curb losses generated from illegal offshore gambling. ©Skeeze/Pixabay

Bill C-218, also called the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, was introduced by members Brian Masse and Kevin Waugh. If successful, the bill would amend the Canadian Criminal Code, which currently classifies most forms of gambling under “lottery schemes” that are organized for charitable reasons.

While they can bet on sporting events, Canadian can only bet through a parlay betting system through local lotteries. A parlay bet sees multiple individual bets lumped into one bet. This, in turn, offers bettors lower odds of winning but tends to offer larger rewards when wins occur.

The justification for not allowing single event bets has been because of the argument that betting on single events may affect the integrity of a game. In fact, the first attempt to legalize single-event betting was killed due to strong opposition from professional sports leagues.

Regardless, this hasn’t stopped Canadians from engaging in single event betting through offshore methods. Though not technically legal, the recent explosion in legal sports betting in the United States has seen Canadians faced with far more gambling options than what is offered at home.

In turn, the Canadian Gaming Association estimates Canadians wager $14 billion through offshore gambling sites. Considering only $375 million is bet annually with the parlay system, it makes sense why politicians would be keen to introduce reforms to recoup these heavy losses.

“None of that activity is subject to government regulations or taxes. None of it is creating jobs in this country or economic opportunities. And none of it is contributing to consumer protection, to education, to harm reduction and initiatives or support services, which are badly needed I must say in this country.”Kevin Waugh, MP, Canadian House of Commons

Specifically, the bill would make it lawful for a province to conduct and manage a lottery scheme that involves “betting on… a single sport event or athletic contest.” It would also redact a paragraph of the Criminal Code that explicitly prohibits lotteries from accepting these wagers.

It was expected that the bill would be debated in the coming weeks, though the parliamentary shutdown due to coronavirus has delayed this. Despite this, expectations for the bill are high, with support already being voiced by members of two of the country’s major political parties.

Previous Attempts to Legalize Single Event Sports Betting

Canadian lawmakers have been pushing to redefine the country’s gambling laws to allow single-event sports betting since 2012. Introduced by current bill sponsor Brian Masse, the first bill, C-290, successfully passed the House of Commons in 2013.

The bill was later defeated in 2015 by the Senate due to pressure from a number of professional sports leagues including the Toronto Blue Jays baseball franchise. In 2016, Masse again attempted to legalize single-event betting by scrapping the above-mentioned paragraph of the Canadian Criminal Code.

Despite the previous bill having been supported by the now-ruling Liberal party, the second bill was voted down 156-133. It was believed that this would be the end of the push to bring single-event sports betting to Canada, but the repeal of PASPA in the United States was quick to change that.

The move not only changed how local governments looked at sports betting, but it also forced major sports leagues to adjust their attitudes and, in time, come out in support of legalized sports betting. The advent of wagering in the USA introduced an influx of gamblers from Canada.

Currently, Canadians bet on offshore sites without punishment, as the government has made no effort to ban these activities. As the activities are currently in a legal gray zone, residents have been free to continue wagering whilst Canadian tax coffers have suffered from the loss of revenues.

Further motivation for lawmakers to approve of the measures is the recent legalization of sports betting in Michigan and New York. Both states neighbor the populous province Ontario, signaling further potential losses to Canada. Even Vic Fedeli, the Finance Minister for Ontario, had sent a letter to the federal Finance Minister requesting the amendment.

This among other reasons is likely to have motivated Messe and Waugh to introduce another bill. According to Waugh, there is clear evidence of bipartisan support in the House. It is his belief that if the sports leagues can be convinced on the matter, it should be able to get passed into law.

It may be a while before a vote on the matter is possible. The current coronavirus situation has not only upended the legislative process but the sports leagues the bill is seeking to allow bets for. In the wake of the events, it is also unlikely that issues such as these will be at the top of the agenda.

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Canada’s House of Commons building on parliament hill.

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