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On Thursday, the latest attempt to legalize single-match sports wagering was introduced in Canadian parliament. It’s the second such bill this year and the fourth overall.
The number of previous failed attempts might seem, on the surface, like a bad sign for this bill’s chances of success. However, those past failures were more circumstantial than the result of any real opposition. This spring’s effort, for instance, was expected to succeed before being derailed first by COVID-19, then a political scandal, and finally the prorogation of parliament.
It’s certainly possible that new distractions could delay things once again. However, barring unforeseen circumstances, there’s a very good chance the bill will pass. If it does, Canada may finally leave its single-game sports wagering gray market status behind.
The section of the Canadian Criminal Code dealing with gambling takes a minimalist approach. It lays out some rules about what sorts of gambling activities are permissible for charitable purposes. All other forms of gambling, it delegates to lottery corporations, power over which it delegates to the provinces.
However, it lists a few specific activities that are prohibited outright. Unfortunately, wagering on “any race or fight, or on a single-sport event or athletic contest” is on the list.
This spring’s Bill C-218 took a straightforward approach to remedying the problem. It would have simply redacted the relevant paragraph and left the rest to the lotteries to work out.
The new bill, titled “C-13: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (single event sport betting),” is almost identical in that regard. The only difference is that it leaves horse betting on the list of prohibited activities for the lotteries, as this is already regulated under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Unlike previous efforts, which were private members’ bills, C-13 comes directly from the government‘s Minister of Justice, David Lametti.
“The goal of the legislation is simple: It is to bring a common practice out of the shadows and into the open. To make it legal, regulated, and safe,” Lametti said about the bill on Thursday.
That in itself doesn’t guarantee success. The ruling Liberal Party only holds a minority and needs support from other parties’ members of parliament (MPs) to pass a bill. However, one of the historical challenges for single-game sports wagering was indifference or ambivalence from the Liberals specifically.
Previous attempts to strike the prohibition on sports betting from the Criminal Code have been initiated by both the Conservative Party of Canada and the left-leaning New Democratic Party. Even the separatist Bloc Québecois has spoken favorably on the subject.
With the Liberals introducing C-13 themselves, and so early in the new parliamentary session, it is apparent that they now consider it a priority. Assuming the other parties still feel the same way they did before, it should pass quickly and easily.
Canadian sports media and sports betting company TheScore shares this assessment. Its founder and CEO John Levy spoke about the bill in a press release:
“Canadians deserve a modernized and regulated sports betting market, and we commend the federal government for their efforts to legalize single-event wagering. There is now clear cross-party support and strong momentum to amend Canada’s outdated federal laws and enable the legal sports betting market to flourish. As the leading mobile sports brand in Canada, we are eager to bring theScore Bet to our fans and offer them our best-in-class sports betting experience.”
In particular, legal sportsbooks in Michigan will eventually pose a problem for southern Ontario. This region is home to the highest density of casinos in the country. That includes Caesars Windsor, which has warned that without a sportsbook, it stands to lose business to the three commercial casinos in Detroit, just across the river.
The city of Windsor comprises two federal ridings, Windsor-Tecumseh and Windsor West. The latter is currently represented by Brian Masse of the NDP, who was involved with the earlier bill, C-218. This time around, he’s joined by his Liberal colleague in the former riding, Irek Kusmierczyk, who may have helped get his party on board.
Speaking to the Windsor Star, Kusmierczyk was very clear about the issues. From the Liberals’ point of view, sports betting is about the economy, and specifically about cross-border business:
“This is huge,” he said. “And really, this is about protecting the 2,500 jobs at Caesars Windsor. It’s also about giving the tourism sector a much needed boost. We know the tourism sector was pounded and pummeled during COVID-19.”
Kusmierczyk said that even with widespread support, a bill will typically take about three months to work its way through the legislature. Because it doesn’t contain any specifics, however, C-13 is only the first step on the road.
Next, the five provincial lottery corporations will need to decide how they will handle it:
At the moment, all five have their own parlay-based sports betting products. How they go about implementing single-game wagering and how long it takes to roll out will vary from province to province. We can expect that Ontario will lead the way, since its casinos are providing the impetus for the bill.
Canadians probably shouldn’t plan to be placing legal bets on single sporting events until late next year at the earliest.
Assuming the bill passes, it’s safe to assume that all five provincial lottery corporations will eventually offer single-game betting. They may stick with the same platform providers they use for their current parlay-based offerings. Some may instead begin a new bidding process.
Either way, we can expect that they will be drawing from the same pool of white-label platform providers used by other lotteries in the US and around the world. This includes the likes of:
In other words, private sector brands like William Hill, DraftKings, and Bet365 probably won’t be given licenses to operate legally in the market, at least when it comes to mobile betting.
Some, like Bet365, already serve Canadians in unregulated, gray market fashion. The arrival of legal betting may force them to stop.
The Canadian government may not be able to police them directly, as measures such as domain blacklisting run afoul of the Canadian Charter of Rights. However, the US will be a useful ally in this regard. Companies wishing to obtain licenses in the US will have to comply with requests by the Canadian government or risk being seen as bad actors by regulators south of the border. Many international sportsbooks already refuse Canadian customers for exactly this reason.
Retail sportsbooks at the casinos are a different story. Caesars Windsor will almost certainly be opening its own Caesars Sportsbook. However, not every Canadian casino is associated with a company already engaged in sports wagering. This could create some opportunities for other companies to enter the retail betting market, but there’s still a lot that has to happen before we can make any firm predictions on that front.