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Whoa Canada: Nation’s Sports Betting Legalization Being Slow Walked

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Whoa Canada: Nation’s Sports Betting Legalization Being Slow Walked
Bell Centre on June 6, 2021 in Montreal, Canada. Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images/AFP

Single-game sports betting in Canada continues to be a work in progress with news that the third and potentially final reading of Bill C-218, the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act that began Thursday has failed to reach a completion point. It means further delay of potentially ground-breaking legislation in Canada. Hopes are that the final reading will be completed by Monday.

Bill C-218 entered its final stages of passage on June 8 when Canada’s Senate began the reading of the Bill. There has been much discussion since, some necessary, and some seemingly with a delay/stall tactic in mind. The clock is ticking for the Senate to approve something quickly – the current session of Canada’s Parliament ends at the end of next week. On the line is Canada’s ability to launch a single-game platform by the end of this year.

A Bit of History

The push for single-game sports betting legalization in Canada started in early 2020 thanks to House of Commons member Kevin Waugh. His hard work resulted in actual legislation in November 2020. Canada’s House of Commons passed the Bill in April before punting it to the Senate where it is being debated now.

As it stands, sports betting isn’t illegal in Canada. However, legal sports wagers can only be placed in parlay form. It has been going on for years. Single game betting is not yet permitted and is the focus of the Bill being discussed right now in Canada’s Parliament.

There will have to be a change in Canada’s criminal code, albeit a small one in order to lift the ban on single game sports betting. The present single-game prohibition has been in place for approximately 30 years and was drafted to prevent match-fixing, an issue that is still prevalent in the minds of many of the opponents of the new Bill in Canada.

Under the new Bill, each province would be allowed to regulate the new platform they way they see fit – similar to the rollout of legal sports betting in the USA after the Supreme Court overturned their blanket ban on sports wagering in 2018.

“[Provinces] have been seeking this change for years and are ready to respond to it quickly and responsibly,” Senator David Wells said. “While we can not dictate the regulatory practices of Canada’s provincial governments, what we can do is make this modification to one line of the Criminal Code, thereby empowering them to safely bring single-event sports betting within Canada.”

What’s on the Line

Canada is seen largely as an untapped market. Bill C-218 would bring about 38 million Canadian residents into the legal, single-game sports betting fold which is about the same population as California.

The passage of the Bill would also put Canadian pro sports teams like its seven NHL teams, MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays and NBA’s Toronto Raptors on even playing fields with their US counterparts. Canadian Football League brass have also pushed hard for legislation to open up betting opportunities on their sport, while at the same time enhancing the overall fan experience for that league.

Not only will fans, teams and leagues benefit from single-game sports betting legislation in Canada. Needy tax coffers will benefit too. Taking illegal betting off the black market and legislating and taxing is seen as a prudent plan – one that will help Canadian educational programs, hospitals and infrastructure projects to name a few.

The Stumbling Blocks

Bill C-218 has been stuck in the Senate for two weeks as proponents and opponents discuss a myriad of issue, one being the potential problem of match-fixing, which is a traditional argument against legalization. It hasn’t been much of an issue in other countries. Canadian regulators need not look further than the US to see that there hasn’t been much of a problem with match-fixing there.

There are concerns being voiced by Canada’s First Nations who currently have a stake in the betting scene in the country and fear that further regulation will impact their bottom line. Amendments will be heard on the matter and hopefully will satisfy all parties.

The subject of criminality around gambling was also broadly debated, making a quick consultation process impossible. Cheating, the creation of unfair advantages, fraud, bribery and conspiracy are all legitimate issues that are currently being hashed over, to the chagrin of proponents hoping to fast-track legislation.

Where Bill C-218 Stands

Even thought Thursday’s session ended without any clarity on just where Bill C-218 stands, discussion in the Senate will pick up again Monday, with a few amendments and other issues up for discussion.

While lawmakers seem to be dragging their feet, there is widespread optimism that the Bill will pass the Senate by Friday’s deadline and Canada will join the ranks of the countries that benefit both socially monetarily from such a platform.

David Phillips, COO at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario says legalization will be in place “By the end of 2021.” Stewart Groumoutis, British Columbia Lottery Commission predicts it will be “Almost immediately.”

“Colleagues, it is time to bring single-event sports betting into the light of day,” said Senator David Wells. The smart money is on his wish coming to fruition.