Analysis: It’s Power Play Time For Canada Sports Betting Hopes This Week

Posted on February 17, 2021
Canada sports betting
Posted By on February 17, 2021

An update from the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) earlier this month noted a few key events coming soon that will shape the future of single-game sports betting in Canada.

This week sees the Canadian parliament doing double duty. According to the CGA, there are parliamentary events surrounding two bills that would enable single-game  sports betting in Canada.

The private member bill option in Canada

The first event was the second reading vote on MP Kevin Waugh’s bill, which passed by a  303-15 vote Wednesday. The second reading and debate of the bill were held February 5.

The favorable vote sent the bill forward to what is likely a final round of hearings before the Justice Committee.

According to the House of Commons website, private members’ bills come in two varieties:

  • Public bills that deal with public policy issues under the purview of the federal government (e.g. criminal laws relating to sports gambling)
  • Private bills that deal with interests related to specific individuals or corporations

Public bills, like Waugh’s Bill C-218, must be introduced into Parliament via a designated procedure. Private members’ bills traditionally face a much greater number of obstacles to become law.

In the 100 years between May 4, 1910, and September 7, 2008, Canada passed a mere 229 private members’ bills. However, private members’ bills tend to fare significantly better when the party in power has a minority government, as is the case with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government today.

The ‘competing’ sports betting bill

While private members’ bills rarely do well in terms of becoming law, the proponents of Bill C-218 should not be too nervous. There is a government bill, C-13, which ends in the same result: single-game Canada sports betting would no longer be prohibited by the Criminal Code of Canada.

The Government’s bill is lagging the private member’s bill ever so slightly, but according to the CGA, C-13 is slated for a second reading and debate on February 19, 2021.

I’m just a bill …

Like the Schoolhouse Rock song that taught decades of American children how a bill becomes a law, the process is similar in Canada with some slight differences, but no catchy song.

In Canada, there are three readings of bills before they can become a law.

In the first reading, the bill is read to either the House of Commons or the Senate, and it is printed.

A second reading occurs in the same chamber as the first reading, where that chamber can then send the bill for further study to a committee, or to subcommittee.

Committing to committees

In committee, a group undertakes a line-by-line review of the bill. This is also the time when witnesses and experts may be called to weigh in on the bill.

In a previous universe where the sports leagues opposed legalized wagering in Canada and the United States, their testimony went a long way towards sinking federal legislation to repeal the ban on single-game wagering.

The committee then produces a report which is sent back to Parliament with recommended changes or amendments. The recommendations are then debated and voted on by the Members of Parliament.

If the House of Commons chooses to move forward, the amended bill is then debated and voted on in the House of Commons. If the bill receives a favorable vote, it is sent to the Senate for consideration.

Unlike in the United States, Canadian Senators are appointed, not elected. While the upper chamber (the Senate) was traditionally viewed by some as a rubber stamp on legislation, the Senate has become more deliberative in recent years.

Likely to pass?

Despite the historical challenges and the appearance of competing bills, many expect Canada to get single-game sports betting legislation done at the parliamentary level this year. This would then open the doors for the provinces to begin contemplating how to roll out products.

We can expect to see a great deal of back and forth at the provincial level with just what model Canada sports betting should roll out under.

The appetite for legislation that would enable single-game sports betting across Canada is not without its detractors including at least one prominent member of the Liberal Party. Some experts have also highlighted that the bill to repeal the provision of the Criminal Code is not being accompanied by consumer and market protection mechanisms.

The system that requires multiple readings of bills means that things are never sure things until they are done.

What’s next for sports betting in Canada?

Even with the optimism surrounding single-game betting coming to Canada, the real winds facing, or favoring, the bills will show themselves as we get closer to a third reading. In the period leading up to the third reading expect both those in favor and opposed to ramp up their efforts to convince lawmakers of their point of view.

If all goes well and the bill makes out of the House of Commons and the Senate it will go to the Governor-General for Royal Assent, at which point the bill will become law. If all goes according to advocates’ plans it is a possibility that legal single-game betting could be around for the start of the next NFL season, though a number of pieces still need to fall into place.

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John Holden

John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.

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