Sports Betting In Canada Could Launch By Fall If Passed By Parliament

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A Canadian Senate hearing Wednesday suggests sports betting in Canada could launch by Labor Day.

That was the date Canadian Gaming Association President and CEO Paul Burns gave when Sen. Elizabeth Marshall asked for a firm date for a sports betting launch if bill C-218 passes to amend the Criminal Code to allow single-event wagering in Canada.

Burns and Canadian Football League Commissioner Randy Ambrosie testified to the Standing Committee on Banking, Trade, and Commerce on Wednesday evening. The panelists spoke at length about the potential benefits and risks of sports betting in Canada.

The committee will produce a report prior to a potential third reading in the Senate.

Fast launch of sports betting in Canada?

Marshall asked how quickly Canadian sports betting partners could launch if the Canadian Parliament passes C-218. She supports the bill but said legislative initiatives can take years to launch.

Burns said it will be a matter of months, perhaps even weeks, for provincial lotteries to launch single-game sports betting. The lotteries already offer parlay sports bets.

“I expect by fall, you’ll see some very robust offerings,” Burns said.

Pressed by Marshall for a specific date, he said, “By Labor Day.”

He mentioned British Columbia and Ontario regulators are already working on rules. Ontario intends on an open sports betting market.

Opportunity awaits in Canada

In his opening statement, Burns expressed the opportunity sports betting offers as the Canadian gaming industry works to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burns cited a Deloitte estimate that Canadians might wager $7 billion initially, with the potential to grow to $28 billion within five years.

“The benefits go from tax revenue to provincial governments to creating jobs and economic opportunity,” Burns said.

Burns also mentioned the potential growth of the Canadian technology sector, including theScore, with the passage of the bill.

Canadian football growth?

Along with echoing many of Burns’ statements, Ambrosie spoke about the benefits of sports betting to the CFL.

He said the industry would help bring new revenue to the league, from sponsorships to increased TV revenue derived from stronger fan engagement. He declined several times to put a specific estimate to the potential revenue gains.

“Like so many Canadian businesses, we’ve been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ambrosie said. “This may be one of the single biggest opportunities the CFL has ever faced and it couldn’t happen at a better time.

“[C-218] has the full support of the Canadian Football League and urge the Senate to swiftly consider and support.”

Problem gambling issues

Several Senators asked about how to ensure problem gambling does not increase with legalized sports betting. There was also a question about preventing match-fixing.

Burns said while gaming options have increased in the past decade, problem gambling has stabilized and even decreased because of “world-class responsible gaming programs.”

“The reality is that just because there is new product doesn’t mean there’s new problem gamblers,” Burns said.

On match-fixing, Burns said he believes there are provisions to prohibit it. The CFL has “protections built into our existing ecosystem” including life suspensions for match-fixing, according to Ambroise.

Tribal input on sports betting

A second panel on Wednesday heard from tribal gaming leaders in Canada. In general, the tribal leaders support the legalization of sports betting in Canada.

Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke Chief Gina Deer wants single-event sports wagering for her tribe. Deer, however, said she cannot support the bill without specific indigenous inclusion, as it puts them at a disadvantage in the industry.

“Laws are constantly created to shut us out of industries that are very lucrative,” Deer said. “It makes it very difficult to believe in true reconciliation and righting the wrongs of the past.”

Coming down to the wire

The Parliament wraps up its session at the end of June. Should the Senate pass the bill, it needs to go back to the House of Commons for re-approval before going to the Governor General‘s office.

Recently, C-218 sponsor Kevin Waugh gave sports betting a 50-50 chance to make it out of the Senate. It passed the House on April 22.

While there appear to be more important issues for many Senators, others committed to working on C-218. Sen. Brent Cotter told the Canadian Press it was a pressing issue with a “better than 50-50 chance.”

“The banking committee of the Senate is an honourable committee, it does its work in a timely way,” Cotter said. “If it can look at the bill, meet with witnesses and report back in a reasonably expeditious way, there is time within the Senate agenda for it to be finalized, assuming it’s sufficiently supported, and I think it would be.

“There is a fair amount of other business that the Senate needs to concern itself with … but the window is available if we can move in a timely and responsible way, I think.”