Opinion: Another Week, Another Canada Sports Betting Hearing In The Books

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Canada sports betting

The steady progress toward single-game sports betting in Canada appears on track although potential storm clouds can be seen on the horizon.

Late last month, a Canadian Parliamentary Committee held additional hearings.

These were for the purpose of potentially amending the country’s Criminal Code to allow single game sports betting in Canada.

The hearings featured testimony from various stakeholders. In addition to witnesses representing the horse racing industry, the interests of the NHL, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, and theScore were all represented at the Tuesday hearing.

The last hearing was held in camera or behind closed doors, but the Parliamentary Committee did release a transcript.

What happened behind closed doors

After some initial confusion about whether everyone was looking at the same document and the author of the Bill being inadvertently locked out of the virtual hearing room, the Committee began by examining the Bill.

Once the hearing was underway, a Liberal representative for Niagara Centre, Vance Badawey, proposed that the Bill be amended with the following language:

(b) bookmaking, pool selling or the making or recording of bets, including bets made through the agency of a pool or pari-mutuel system, on any horse-race; or

The only comment on the amendment was why the Liberal’s amendment did not have quotation marks, which were included in the Conservatives’ version of the proposed amendment (it is presumed there was laughter, but that is not documented in the recording.)

The amendments were agreed to on a unanimous 11-0 vote. The Bill now returns to Parliament with the amendment from the Committee.

More Canada sports betting news coming

Like the Spring thaw, a number of briefs filed over the last few weeks were made available to the public.

Amongst the groups filing were some prominent names, including the National Football League and Rogers Communications.

Rogers Communications

For all the noise being made about theScore’s footprint in Canada, one of the great questions centers on what interest media giant Rogers has in Canada sports betting. The brief posted on March 22, 2021, provides some key insights.

Rogers begins their brief by noting that sports betting is already in Canada, both in the form of licensed provincial parlay offerings and grey market operators.

Amending the Criminal Code will permit the provinces to allow safe, responsible and regulated sports betting while driving economic benefits for Canadians.

The media giant also cited the increased consumer protections associated with legalizing single-game betting.

A big question for many Canadians, and perhaps fear for competitors, is whether Rogers is interested in jumping into the sports betting space should the market be de-monopolized. Rogers does not reveal much in regards to their plans beyond saying:

Revenues from sports betting as a result of C-218, generated for Rogers through advertising or other experiences, will support jobs and further enhance entertainment options for all Canadians.

The NFL makes a statement — wait, the NFL?

The NFL used their Canadian brief to advocate for the use of official league data, amongst other things.

The League argued that official data protects consumers from matches that may not occur (ghost games.)

(As an editorial aside on this point: Not to diminish the threat of ghost games, which do happen and are serious threats to market integrity, but there are market protections that are much better at protecting consumers than restricting the data market to so-called official data. Indeed, a robust data market with lots of competition would arguably provide more protection than a system that sees all data originate from a common input.)

It is unclear from the NFL’s Canadian filing if they believe that someone could stage a ghost NFL game or if they are just generally concerned about ghost games. Not to spoil the surprise, but the idea of a ghost NFL game taking place would be nearly impossible.

The NFL does hit on some reasonable consumer safeguards such as prohibiting betting by insiders and including responsible gambling resources. However, this Bill is a simple repeal of language in the Criminal Code, so the advocacy appears targeted at the wrong group of legislators.

The CFL voices support

The Canadian Football League took the opportunity in a short two-page filing to voice their support for the Bill citing the impact of a season canceled because of COVID-19. The League cited the opportunity to attract new fans to the game as one of the reasons they support the Bill.

Like others, the CFL noted that there is a need to put in place proper safeguards, but urged Parliament to move forward with this piece of legislation.

Support for Canada sports betting not unanimous

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake filed a brief noting that while the Bill amends the Criminal Code with respect to the provinces, it does not provide the same recognition to “Indigenous governments operating legitimate, regulated, well-established gaming on sports events…”

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake proposes an amendment to the Criminal Code stating:

207 (1) Notwithstanding any of the provisions of this Part relating to gaming and betting, it is lawful

(a) for an Indigenous governing body to conduct and manage a lottery scheme pursuant to the terms of an agreement with the government of Canada;

A lack of communication

The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation filed a brief noting that the government has a constitutional duty to engage in “meaningful consultation to Indigenous governments prior to enacting legislation to legalize sports bookmaking.”

The brief notes the historical exclusion of Indigenous governments from having a say in the regulation of gambling in Canada.

What happens now for sports betting in Canada

The Bill now returns to Parliament to either approve or reject the amendment. The Bill still is expected to become law at some point in the future.

However, there does appear to be a growing number of voices questioning the proposed legislative repeal. While the Bill remains favored to pass, one thing becoming clear is that eventual rollout at the provincial level is likely to become contested.