Canadian Sports Betting Bill Amended to Protect Horse Racing Industry

Jay Dieffenbach

The future of legalized sports betting in Canada moved forward on Thursday, gaining approval from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with a horse racing amendment attached.

The planned “clause-by-clause consideration” hearing on Bill C-218, an in-depth review of the proposal, precedes the third reading in the House of Commons.

Among the bill’s stronger proponents is theScore CEO John Levy, who took to Twitter on Thursday with optimism.

He wrote:

“NEWS: Bill C-218 has been unanimously approved by House of Commons Committee w/ an important amendment protecting horse racing. Strong momentum continues for regulated sports betting in Canada. Now, back to the House for 3rd reading. We urge Parliament to pass this bill quickly.”

The bill seeks to legalize single-event sports betting in Canada, but the horse racing industry cautioned that it would create an opening for international companies and others to offer wagering on horse races in Canada at the expense of the local industry.

Under the new proposal, fixed odds wagering on horse racing would not be permitted.

“This is great news for the horse racing industry and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports across Canada,” Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson said. “On behalf of the industry, thank you to the Standing Committee for listening to our perspective and recognizing the need to protect horse racing from unintended consequences caused by the legalization of sports betting.”

PMB C-218 was introduced by MP Kevin Waugh to legalize single-event sports betting in Canada.

The horse racing industry has thrown its support behind the bill, for the most part, but cited the consequences to the industry if protections were not included.

The Bill will now proceed to Third Reading in the House and, if passed, head to the Senate for review.

“As the legislation process continues, our industry will remain active to ensure the protections remain in the Bill through the Senate process,” Lawson said. “We also recognize that with this potential emergence of sports betting in the near future, our industry will face increased competition in the legal wagering market and must pursue additional sources of revenue to further protect our industry.”

During hearings in recent months, racing stakeholders pushed for an amendment — a provision that would exclude Canadian sportsbooks from taking fixed-odds wagers on races.

Those trainers and associated horsemen and women collect much of their earnings from the takeout from pari-mutuel wagering — a percentage of the betting pool. If sportsbooks offered fixed-odds betting on races, they would not be guaranteed a cut.

“I’m counting on the government to recognize the industry,” retired jockey Sandy Hawley told the committee. “Its hardworking people, its value, and make the right decision on the amendment… without the exclusion, it would kill the revenue string that supports the sport, all the people and the business that depend on it.”

Lawson and Woodbine will continue to advocate for an opportunity to participate in sports betting in the new world, and would certainly see a benefit.

“We look forward to continuing to engage with government and other stakeholders to offer our expertise in regulated sports wagering as Canada prepares for this new and emerging sector,” Lawson said. “The opportunity for us to offer our leadership in this sector has the potential for sports betting to be a very positive development for the horse racing industry.”

The Dangers to Racing Without the Amendment

According to a Bloodhorse Magazine story late last year, Canada's horse racing industry is dependent on “existing agreements that ensure a fair portion of the revenue generated by wagering is circulated back into the horse racing ecosystem.”

During a hearing earlier this month, Lawson explained the major problems that could come to the Canadian horse racing industry without C-218 amendments.

“Fixed odds betting has mass appeal to large wagerers,” Lawson said. “The new generation of wagerers have grown up betting on point spread much like you see in the NFL.”

“We are requesting C-218 adopt language to protect horse racing; to do otherwise will destroy the Canadian horse racing industry.”

President of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario Sue Leslie had cautioned the “business model for the industry will be completely broken” without an amendment.

“Horse racing produces $5.7 billion in economic activity as an industry providing 50,000 jobs.”

On Feb. 17, Bill C-218 passed its second reading in the House of Commons 303-15.

The bill would be an economic boom to a country missing out on billions of dollars in wagering through offshore, black market wagering sites.

With casinos having been closed for most of the past year, the focus on single-bet sports wagering has become more acute.

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