Opinion: How Prepared Is Canada For Legal Sports Betting?

Posted on June 16, 2021
Canada sports betting
Posted By on June 16, 2021

The clock continues to tick on sports betting in Canada, but with more hope.

It looks like optimism for Canada successfully passing a measure that would allow for single-game sports betting is growing.

The Senate’s Standing Committee on Banking, Trade, and Commerce scheduled three hearings on the legislation, after which point they will send a report back to the Senate with any recommended revisions before a third reading and vote on the legislation. That would then pave the way for a final vote in the House of Commons before a signature from the acting Governor-General giving royal assent.

A few questions, however, have been popping up in hearings. One of them centers on the bill’s exclusion of the interests of tribal nations, and the other centers on whether Canada is really prepared to protect against the threat of match-fixing.

Who was asking about match-fixing?

During hearings held June 4, several members of the Senate asked questions about whether enough is being done to prevent or protect against match-fixing.

Senator Diane Bellemare of Quebec asked Paul Burns, the president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, about match-fixing risks associated with various types of bets.

Additionally, as LSR wrote:

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 Ambrosie.

Declan Hill, likely the foremost academic expert on match-fixing, authored an op-ed in the Globe And Mail in December 2020 arguing that Canada’s efforts to legalize sports betting without passing a law banning match-fixing as well is a “recipe for trouble.” Hill was writing about the nearly identical Bill C-13, but his concerns remain true for C-218.

Match-fixers have long history with Canada sports betting

Hill cited an instance where a group of Canadian soccer players appeased match-fixers by losing a game to North Korea in the 1980s.

It is alleged that during the 1986 Merlion Cup, several members of the Canadian National Team, a group that included members who had just competed in Canada’s last World Cup appearance, were approached by match-fixers to lose a semifinal game to North Korea. They did, 2-0.

Hill noted that questions about the extra-territorial nature of Canadian law resulted in an Ottawa judge’s decision that prosecution was not within the Crown’s jurisdiction and the investigation was then dropped.

Not the only instance

The op-ed further highlighted that the problem of match-fixing affecting Canadian sport is far from over; indeed, it might have become worse. Hill noted that an Interpol delegation informed Canadian authorities about widespread match-fixing in the Canadian Soccer League in 2015.

Some reports alleged that as many as half of the Canadian Soccer League’s games showed suspicious betting patterns that might indicate a fix.

The response of Canadian authorities, according to Hill, was that there was not anything that could be done under Canadian law.

What is wrong with Canadian law?

Canada does not have a law that prohibits match-fixing directly. Many countries do not.

The United States arguably only has a federal law that prohibits match-fixing via bribery, though other laws could likely be applied to punish match-fixing not related to bribery.

In 2017, I co-authored an article that looked at match-fixing laws around the world, with one of the countries we examined being Canada.

A total absence of protection?

Canada does not have any law that specifically creates an offense for match-fixing. Canada does have a law, however, that prohibits cheating in betting with an intent to defraud.

Section 209 of the Criminal Code of Canada says:

Everyone who, with intent to defraud any person, cheats while playing a game or in holding the stakes for a game or in betting is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Canada also has various other statutes, similar to the United States, which prohibit conduct that often accompanies match-fixing, according to a 2013 United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime Report. So the country is not totally unprotected against all manners of fixing.

Problem solved?

The fact of the matter is that, as Hill pointed out six months ago (and has been doing for years,) the laws that Canada has are deficient for stopping match-fixing.

Given that two of the most prominent match-fixing scandals in the country led to investigations without convictions because of jurisdictional issues, it would appear that whatever relevant laws there are, they are not adequate.

Two cents on Canada sports betting

Only amateurs would seek to fix a game and then bet in a regulated and monitored market. For this reason, a legal and regulated single-game betting market in Canada should be encouraged, but there is a lot that goes into providing a functioning market that protects consumers, betting markets, and sports themselves.

In fact, given that much of the impetus for this legislation seems to be driven by the losses suffered as a result of the pandemic, there should be an even greater desire to protect Canadian sports by passing legislation that accompanies single-game betting that criminalizes match-fixing, eliminating any jurisdictional questions.

Unlike the US system where this could be handled at the state level upon implementation, the fact that serious criminal offenses in Canada are a federal matter means this cannot be left to the provinces to handle.

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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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