Game on! Canada’s lawmakers push sports betting bill to the finish line
It took a long time to get there, but Canada now has a clear path to legalized sports betting after the Senate passed Bill C-218 on Tuesday. With the royal assent from the country’s chief justice pending – it's a formality – 38 million people soon will be able to join the party.
Bill C-218 is a private member's bill that provides amendments to the criminal code regarding single-event gambling; it gained momentum as lawmakers considered the amount of money Canada was losing to offshore sites, U.S. casinos and illegal bookmakers.
The bill, titled the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, passed by a vote of 57-20, with five abstentions, in the Senate after long ago, in February, passing the House.
Conservative MP Kevin Waugh's bill garnered renewed enthusiasm, and ultimately success, when Waugh agreed to added protections for the horse racing industry.
A rallying point has been the bill’s intended effect on the black-market gambling organizations, including offshore sportsbooks.
“This bill has the potential to unlock new growth opportunities, reduce illegal betting and generate revenues for both the sporting industry and governments,” Waugh told members of the House in April.
Waugh targets large foreign sites such as Bet365 and Bodog as those organizations facing Canada’s now-legal competition.
Further, the country’s key professional sports leagues – the Canadian Football League and National Hockey League—have supported the legalization efforts, along with other professional sports.
A CFL statement following the bill’s passage applauded the legislation, saying the change in the gambling landscape "will move sports wagering out of the shadows and into the light of day where it belongs."
More than two dozen American states have legalized single-event wagering as the industry rapidly expands in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision lifting the federal ban in 2018.
The sports betting bill’s existence is not received well by everyone
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake issued a statement earlier this week slamming the lawmakers’ pushing C-218 forward, saying it is “repulsed that Canada’s Senate Banking, Trade and Commerce Committee has indeed decided to ignore Kahnawake’s request for needed amendments – and a call to uphold a truly respectful process of reconciliation.”
The Council said the bill will affect its people’s control over their future.
"Indigenous peoples have spent generations being disregarded. Being ignored. And having their ability to shape their own future decided by others,” the statement continued. “Other Senators later – still on a live feed – suggested non-binding, condescending, token language around ‘urging, encourage and support’ Kahnawake’s position rather than add the requested binding language provided to Senators. In other words: all words, all optics – and no substance. An absolute and intentional disregard for, and disrespect of, Kahnawake’s inherent rights and interests.”
And, from the province of Ontario, Senator Vernon White told CTV earlier this week he’s dissatisfied, too, “Because it’s about money. It’s not about gambling addiction, it’s not about First Nations and it’s not about match-fixing. It’s about revenue, and they believe they can tap into that revenue.”
The next steps toward placing Canada’s first wagers
The country’s provinces and territories now are tasked with just how to move forward, and sports betting industry analysts project the grand opening for Canada sometime this fall or winter.
Some provinces say they plan to move immediately to set rules for single-event wagers; parlays had been the only legal way to bet on sports in Canada.
The British Columbia Lottery Corporation is ready to roll, a spokesman said in a TSN story.
Travis Paterson, B.C. Public Safety Ministry representative, said their partnership with PlayNow.com has the lottery “positioned to allow single-event wagering online almost immediately.”
Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey said the province wants "to land the framework by this fall" and implement the new regulations and licensing rules before the year is out.
TheScore, BetMGM, among companies looking to get into the game
Among the many bookmakers pursuing involvement in addition are TheScore and BetMGM.
John Levy, chairman and CEO of Toronto-based TheScore, predicted the annual online gaming revenue in Canada to be between $4.3 billion and $5.4 billion, U.S. dollars.
“All of these tax dollars are floating up to heaven," Levy told reporters recently.
“When you think about people betting on sports … it basically is, ‘Well who do you like tonight? Are you gonna bet the Jays or you gonna bet the Yankees?'"
Levy’s company will be in competition with established companies such as FanDuel, DraftKings and others.
Shares of Score Media, parent company of TheScore app, were up 11 percent in Wednesday’s premarket trading. The app already brings mobile sports betting in New Jersey, Colorado, Indiana and Iowa.
BetMGM released a statement echoing the approval from many in the industry.
“With this change in federal law, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with provincial governments, policymakers, and regulators in crafting policy that benefits taxpayers and provinces, while safeguarding the integrity of games.
“BetMGM also applauds ongoing efforts in the province of Ontario to establish a robust, competitive, and regulated online gaming market and looks forward to participating in the Ontario licensing process.”
During the past couple of months, BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt acknowledged the opportunity and said his sportsbook would be active; DraftKings expanded its NFL daily fantasy sports deal earlier this year to include Canada; and Caesars, which recently closed its deal to acquire William Hill, operates Caesars Windsor in Ontario.
Bill sponsor welcomes redirection of sports betting funds
Sen. David Wells, the bill's upper house sponsor, is eager to see the result of the new legislation cutting into the black market and bringing Canada that revenue.
"Canadians are placing billions of dollars' worth of bets annually through these (offshore) sites, that go entirely unregulated in Canada," he told the Senate last week.
According to the Canadian Gaming Association, approximately $14 billion per year in wagers from Canadians finds a home in offshore sportsbooks.
Deloitte Canada reported recently that Canadian sports betting could grow from $500 million to nearly $28 billion in legal-market wagering within five years.
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