Bump In The Road Ahead For Legal Sports Betting In Canada?

Posted on May 24, 2021
sports betting in Canada

Sports betting in Canada traveled a relatively uneventful path in the past few months.

It was just in April that Bill C-218 sailed through the House of Commons with great ease. The legislation that would repeal the provision within the Criminal Code of Canada that prohibits wagering on single events seemed to enjoy widespread support from various parties. That included the strange bedfellows of the Conservatives and some members of the New Democratic Party (NDP.)

The bill also gathered broad industry support, with perhaps the exception of the horse racing industry that feared allowing single-game Canada sports betting could harm their funding because of the language of the bill. The other key stakeholder group to raise objections were several First Nations groups who argued that the bill lacked language recognizing their sovereignty to conducted gaming.

But there might be another hurdle. A story syndicated from the Canadian Press authored by Dan Ralph over the weekend suggests potential trouble in the Senate.

Quick refresher on sports betting in Canada

After initially trying to legalize single-game sports betting in Canada as far back as 2012, Canadian members of parliament took a renewed effort late last year. The 2012 effort was smooth sailing until the bill reached its third reading in the House of Commons.

That is when sports league representatives showed up en masse and shut the effort down.

Years with little progress

In what we can call the “Christie Years” when New Jersey was battling to bring about legal sports wagering to the Garden State, the champion for single-game sports betting in Canada was Brian Masse, NDP Member of Parliament of the Windsor West riding. Despite his efforts, the legislation failed to gain traction after the sports leagues torpedoed the bill that circulated in 2012.

While Masse’s legislation failed for years to gain significant traction, in recent years Kevin Waugh, the Conservative Member of Parliament from Saskatoon-Greenwood, took up the cause (for Americans, one could analogize the NDP with the most liberal wings of the Democratic Party and the Conservatives are perhaps most closely aligned Republicans – needless to say, opposite ends of the spectrum.)

Private members success?

What made Waugh’s legislation so surprising was that it gained tremendous support as a Private Member’s Bill, a designation that usually signifies a bill is not going to gain support.

But Bill C-218 was different.

A speed bump ahead?

Despite the smooth ride through the House of Commons, the legislation has now been sitting in the Senate since April 22 with only one reading.

Waugh told the Canadian Press that he thinks the bill has only about a “50-50” shot of making it out of the Senate.

Wait, what happened?

Unlike the U.S. Senate, the Senate of Canada is appointed. In fact, it is much closer to the federal judiciary in the United States. Senators are appointed, though there is a mandatory retirement age of 75 years old.

While efforts have been made to remove political affiliations from the Senate, there remain tendencies.

The Senate, which was once viewed as a rubber-stamping body, has recently taken on a more active role in reviewing legislation sent over from the House of Commons.

Indeed, in his interview with the Canadian Press, Waugh cited concerns over how the Senate would view the legislation, noting that it is a Private Member’s Bill from a Conservative. That might not help its path through the Senate.

Never seem to find the time?

Bill C-218 is slated for a second reading in the Senate this week, which, assuming it passes, will set up a similar process to what took place in the House of Commons. There would be assignment to a committee who would then conduct a review of the bill.

The committee may hold further hearings. At the conclusion of the committee’s review, they will report on the legislation to the rest of the Senate, which could then vote following the third reading. It would then go back to the House for re-approval if the Senate votes favorably.

Ticking away the moments

While a third reading and then a short trip back to the House before going to the acting Governor General’s office for Royal Assent is the preferred route for many, this plan could be derailed by legislation’s greatest enemy: time. In fact, according to the interview with Waugh, the hebelieves that if the legislation does not make it through the Senate by the end of June, it is likely done.

There has been growing speculation that the opposition parties will force a federal election in the fall. This would mean the end of all legislation that has not been passed. If elected officials are tasked with starting back at square one, it could mean a year or more for legal single-game sports betting in Canada.

Proceed with caution

Some of the expectations laid out for single-game sports betting in Canada are likely unrealistic, such as Waugh’s quote  that he believed operators in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia could be up and running within a week of the repeal.

But others have highlighted that there has been a general lack of preparedness for modernizing laws that come along with legalizing gambling, such as anti-match fixing laws. There is substantial work left to be done.

The takeaway

Even dropping back down to even-money from a heavy favorite, there still seems to be optimism that legal single-game wagering will make its way to Canada before the kickoff of the NFL season. The wide support from powerful industry stakeholders and sports leagues is something that was lacking previously.

But it is difficult to know if that influence will have the same attraction to the unelected Senate as it did in the House of Commons.

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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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