The third hearing for a bill legalizing single-game sports betting in Canada came up short Thursday but could continue Monday.
The Senate began debate on C-218 but ran into the end of Thursday’s sitting time. The bill is back on the Order Paper on Monday, but the Senate must conduct government business ahead of it. Parliament’s session ends next week.
Thursday’s sitting held plenty of discussion on the bill, which amends the Canadian Criminal Code to allow for single-game sports betting in Canada.
Inside Canada sports betting debate
Senator David Wells sponsored the bill and spoke at length to start the debate on consumer protections, responsible gaming, and economic opportunities. Wells spoke to LSR last week about his cautious optimism the bill would pass this week.
“[Provinces] have been seeking this change for years and are ready to respond to it quickly and responsibly,” Wells said. “While we can not dictate the regulatory practices of Canada’s provincial governments, what we can do is make this modification to one line of the Criminal Code, thereby empowering them to safely bring single-event sports betting within Canada.”
The bill amends one line in the Criminal Code, which already allows for parlay bets. Sports betting in Canada would be regulated at the provincial level, as the gaming industry has been since 1985.
A split discussion
A final vote appeared likely Thursday until the bill received lively, but often redundant, debate from both proponents and opponents. The bill returns to the chamber Monday, which was an optional sitting day as the Parliamentary session winds down.
If the C-218 passes with no amendments on the final vote, it will head to the Governor General for royal assent. If amendments are added, the bill will need to return to the House of Commons and pass before the session ends.
Senator Vernon White attempted to poke holes in C-218, including match-fixing concerns. Supporters of the bill say that is covered in the Criminal Code under fraud. White’s proposed amendment to make match-fixing a specific crime failed.
Tribal issues arise
First Nations tribes involved in gaming are concerned the gaming expansion will negatively affect their industry. Some tribes are operating outside the Criminal Code and a provincial agreement.
Senator Mary Jane MacCallum proposed an amendment to recognize indigenous gaming. The debate and vote on the amendment will resume when the Senate picks up the bill again, as soon as Monday.
Proponents of C-218 said the bill does not change the regulatory framework. They argue this issue is beyond the scope of the bill and leaves regulation up to provinces.
How Canada sports betting got this far
House of Commons member Kevin Waugh started the bill in early 2020 as a private member bill. It was then picked up as official legislation in November 2020.
The House of Commons passed the bill in April.
The slow and steady climb brought the bill to a Senate Committee in May, where it passed unamended despite similar efforts it is facing in the full chamber. Its status as a private member bill placed it behind official government business and kept its outlook unknown until it reached the floor Thursday.
Provinces want sports betting
Provincial governments already offer parlay bets through their lotteries. Those bets make up just C$500 million of the estimated C$14.5 billion bet on sports in Canada every year.
Provinces have asked for single-event wagering in the past. British Columbia and Ontario regulators testified during committee about their plans.
Recently, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis confirmed plans to launch sports betting.
Ontario plans on a “competitive and regulated market.” British Columbia plans to expand its lottery offerings.
When would sports betting in Canada start?
Sports betting launches would be up to individual provinces. Some suggest it could come quickly:
- “By the end of 2021,” David Phillips, COO at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario
- “Almost immediately,” Stewart Groumoutis, British Columbia Lottery Commission
- “By Labor Day,” Paul Burns, President and CEO at the Canadian Gaming Association