The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Association is looking to broaden its sports betting offerings.
According to a report from CBC, the OLG is taking proposals for an overhaul of its online and mobile betting platform. The expansion could include novelty and esports betting, as well as in-game wagering.
Four other provincial jurisdictions currently have similar options in place.
Sports betting in Canada
Like the US, Canada has a federal ban on single-game sports betting. In Canada, however, the provincial governments have some control over sports betting laws within their jurisdictions.
A handful of provinces, including Ontario, provide their own “sports lotteries” for residents of their territories. Choice is limited, though, as single-game wagers are still prohibited nationwide. Even at the provincial level, bets must consist of at least two games, known as a parlay.
With what amounts to provincial monopolies on the product, returns are significantly lower than they are in competitive marketplaces. There’s no incentive to provide good lines and payouts, nor much incentive for third parties to enter the ring.
Given the limitations, many serious bettors still prefer to take their action offshore.
According to Paul Burns, vice president of the Canadian Gaming Association, Canadians bet an estimated $4 billion annually through offshore sportsbooks. That’s about eight times as much money as they wager through provincial sports lotteries.
Canadian legislators are trying
Canadian lawmakers have been poking at federal sports betting legislation since 2011 without much progress. The laws (and opinions) in place are antiquated and don’t account for modern technology and offshore options. There’s a lot of legal grey area.
In February 2016, Ontario MP Brian Masse introduced C-221 to address the lack of clarity. It was his most recent effort after at least one previous bill had stalled out. The “Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act” sought to repeal the portion of the criminal code that makes it illegal to bet on a single sporting event.
Although Masse’s bill tried to focus on consumer protection, it faced the same, tired arguments from opponents worried about match fixing and underage betting.
In September, the bill reached a vote for the first time. It was struck down by a count of 156-133.
The timing isn’t an accident
It’s no coincidence that Masse is the one trying to push for updated legislation.
His constituency is in Windsor, home to a Caesars property that would likely love to offer single-game wagering. It also borders New York and Michigan, two states which may offer sports betting if given the opportunity.
That opportunity could come via the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the law which prohibits single-game sports betting in 49 US states. New Jersey is in the process of challenging that ban in the Supreme Court.
Regardless of the outcome of Christie vs. NCAA, aka the NJ sports betting case, the conversation regarding sports betting is as loud as its ever been in the US. And the climate in Canada shows some of the same earmarks. The marketplace is restricted and fractured, bettors are using offshore sites, and legislators are starting to have a serious look at it.
US progress drives the conversation
So far, Canada’s neighbors to the south are making some progress.
Pennsylvania has already passed a law that allows it to offer sports betting if PASPA is repealed. New York did, too, though it appears to be more timid about moving forward for now. Connecticut, Mississippi and Delaware have taken preliminary steps of their own, and a number of other state legislatures have bills in early stages.
There’s more federal movement, too. Most recently, New Jersey’s own Rep. Frank Pallone introduced a bill designed to let all states legalize sports betting within their borders. It would repeal PASPA at the federal level and set up the legal framework for state-run sports betting.
The National Council of Legislators from Gaming States will make sports betting the key topic at its meeting in January, too. By the time they get there, several of their states will have sports betting legislation on the books or in the hopper.
Although the betting market is significantly larger in the US, it’s logical to assume that progress here would have a positive impact on the conversation in Canada.