Canada Sports Betting On The Way After Senate Passage

Posted on June 22, 2021
Canada sports betting
Posted By on June 22, 2021

Canada sports betting could launch within months as the Canadian Parliament amended the nation’s Criminal Code to allow for single-game wagering Tuesday.

The Senate of Canada passed bill C-218 without any amendments Tuesday, 57-20 with five abstentions. Debate on the bill started Thursday but ended as sitting time expired and discussion continued Monday. The Senate postponed the third reading and final vote for a day.

The Senate’s vote follows the House of Commons passage in April. Now, the bill heads to the Governor General for royal assent to become law, likely within the next few days.

A long time coming for Canada sports betting

While the amended Criminal Code allows for single-game sports betting at Canada sportsbooks, it will be regulated at a provincial level as the gaming industry has been since 1985. That sets up for a similar structure to how states regulate US sports betting.

Bill sponsor Senator David Wells spoke at length to the Senate, discussing consumer protections, responsible gaming and economic opportunities.

“[Provinces] have been seeking this change for years and are ready to respond to it quickly and responsibly,” Wells said during his introduction statement Thursday. “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.”

When will sports betting launch in Canada?

With an inkling C-218 would pass, regulators in at least Ontario and British Columbia are already working on sports betting rules.

During recent committee meetings, various industry stakeholders offered the following timetables:

  • “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

How Canada got here

Canadian provinces have offered legal parlay sports betting. But those bets account for just C$500 million of an estimated C$14.5 billion bet by Canadians on sports.

House of Commons member Kevin Waugh sponsored C-218 as a private member bill early in 2020. It was picked up as official legislation in November 2020.

The bill has seen significant discussion through each of its stops, but the House of Commons passed it in April. The Senate reached the final consideration of the bill on Thursday, despite some delays and concerns the bill would not reach a vote.

Senate pushes away two amendments

Senator Rob Black asked if the bill would protect the Canadian horse racing industry. Wells said the bill does protect the industry as C-218 does not permit fixed-odds horse wagering.

Senator Vernon White raised the issue of match-fixing and wanted an amendment to make it a crime. Bill supporters said Canadian fraud law covers the issue.

An amendment from White fell short Thursday.

Tribal issue arises

Several Senators are concerned First Nations Indigenous groups will be left out of a gaming expansion.

“If ever there was a single day we can be attentive to the sovereignty of First Nations, it would be today,” Senator Marilou McPhedran said Monday. “This bill presents us with an opportunity to act.”

“Without recognizing indigenous governments it will further entrench the material disadvantage that many indigenous councils face. further without this amendment C-218 does not give first nations a clear path to exercise their rights.”

Wells said the bill changes one line of the Criminal Code and does not change the regulatory framework. That framework delegates gaming regulation to the provincial level, which Wells said pushes the issue well beyond the scope of C-218.

An amendment to allow First Nations to be explicitly included failed Monday.

What Canada markets will look like

Phillips said Ontario will be a “competitive and regulated gambling market.” That should mean a lively online sports betting market with plenty of familiar operators trying to get a piece of what would be the fifth-largest US state.

Operators likely view Ontario as the crown jewel of a legalized Canadian sports betting market.

British Columbia appears to be moving more toward a more monopolistic market. Groumoutis said offerings would launch on PlayNow.com, which already offers parlay bets.

In May, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis confirmed plans to add sports betting to PlayAlberta.ca.

Who’s aiming for Canada sports betting market share?

A PwC estimate suggests single-game wagering could generate $2.4 billion in annual gross gaming revenue from sports betting.

Based in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, theScore hopes to secure a significant chunk of the available market.

Other operators with notable Canada initiatives:

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Pat Evans

Pat Evans is a Las Vegas-based reporter covering sports business. Evans previously worked at Front Office Sports and the Grand Rapids Business Journal. He has authored two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer.

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