LSR Q&A: Canadian Gaming Association CEO on Canada Sports Betting

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Canada sports betting

The journey to single-game sports betting in Canada was more than a decade’s worth of effort.

On June 22, the Canadian Parliament passed C-218 to repeal the country’s ban on single-event sports wagering. Before Canada sports betting can fully launch, however, provinces need to set up their regulations.

Late last month, many industry stakeholders expressed delight in the passage of C-218. LSR caught up with Canadian Gaming Association President and CEO Paul Burns to get the lowdown on what the Canadian market will look like.

LSR: How important was it to get C-218 passed for Canada sports betting?

Burns: It was important. We’ve been at it for a decade. We’ve had legal sports wagering with parlays, it was amazing it took so long for something that everyone believed was a good idea. It was important and important for many reasons.

Call it a collision of events: the pandemic and casino industry closed and is just starting to reopen. Professional sports took a hit, particularly the CFL losing a season and seeing new revenue streams and seeing this as a way to reengage fans. It’s different from [previous efforts], pro sports in North America all supported the bill. There was no one standing on the other side.

Fortunately, it was Senators [David] Wells and [Brent] Cotter, they managed to get it through the process in the amount of time they had. They won’t be back this summer, then there’s likely a federal election this fall. That would have taken it off and started the process all over.

LSR: It’s still early, but we’ve heard from several provinces already — how do you see the Canada sports betting landscape shaking out province-by-province?

Burns: It will be a different rollout in different provinces. Some will be very quick. Provincial lotteries with online gaming platforms will be quick. I think in others it will take more time.

Ontario has a plan. It will be an open licensing market, it really is creating an opportunity for anyone to be licensed and that will be unique.

Other provinces may take time to divide more beyond the lottery corporations. Alberta put out a request for information in the interest of a retail model in casinos with mobile options. They got a lot of feedback. The casino operators dearly want to partner with some brand names. Are they going to proceed with that, pick one, pick two, pick 10, I don’t know.

Saskatchewan has given rights online to the Indian Gaming Authority. They operate six casinos and there are 1.1 million people. So one operator probably makes sense. That’s why I say it, people are putting a lot of numbers out and expectations on the market, but until we see what provinces do, we just don’t know.

LSR: You mentioned Ontario, that’s the big fish of them all though, right?

Burns: Ontario has 35% or so of the country’s population. It’s a big market. It’s the fifth-biggest market in North America. There’s no doubt operators want to be there.

LSR: It seems like every province is looking at online …

Burns: That’s what we’re working to encourage. We want to make sure they put all the pieces in place right away, so they’re not holding back on in-game, esports.

Whatever way is appropriate, but make sure it’s there. DFS, all these kinds of things, we don’t want them to hold back and do this now and some later. We’re encouraging that all the offerings, it’s in their initial launch.

LSR: In the Senate, C-218 saw two proposed amendments on match-fixing and tribal issues. Do you think either of those was a valid concern?

Burns: I don’t. Match-fixing, the reality is the underpinnings of this legislation was of robust integrity. That’s why we’ve been saying we need to legalize single-game wagering. We don’t know what’s going on because there are no operators, no regulators watching and they are the first line of defense.

International sports bodies and organizations have done tremendous work to educate and inform but we need to put rules in place and treat it the same way as doping. So what we see now is there is great cooperation and shining lights to protect the integrity of sports.

First Nation, that amendment that was brought forward by the Mohawks of Kahnawàke and only by them. It had implications, it wasn’t a simple amendment in a sense by under the Criminal Code, there’s a history of provincial relationships you can’t wipe out with an amendment to an otherwise simple bill. There are seven agreements with seven provinces and the First Nations over gaming that deliver a billion dollars to the First Nations in very different ways … all these agreements are different.

Quebec has not chosen to negotiate with the First Nations, that’s where the Kahnawàke reside, but the province is not engaging at any level. They were able to create the KGC to create laws, open poker clubs. They’ve added slot machines and held two referendums — both defeated — for a casino. They exercise their full jurisdiction.

The Mohawks operate sports wagering, it’s a popular sportsbook in the country. They would have been the only one running sports wagering, the other First Nations tribes don’t have access. This gives us all access and we can still talk about their concerns in a more appropriate forum. Saskatchewan agreed to amend the gaming agreement to allow First Nations to operate the online platform and sports betting. Ontario is renegotiating with the First Nations.

That was the context. Even the Assembly of First Nations, Chief [Perry] Bellegarde, he was even saying we need to pass this bill, we need to get this and talk about jurisdiction in the proper forum.

LSR: Are there concerns now, before regulations are set, that Canadians see sports betting as legal and start using illegal operators before legal operators launch?

Burns: That’s a challenge. There’s a very robust illegal market in Canada. Canadians have been able to use pretty mainstream payment processing, credit card or bank cards on these sites.

Provinces need to take a hard look. Sports might be a big disruptor for this, but saying, “We’re legal and they are not,” falls on deaf ears when they see an ad for a dot-net site on a field or an ice rink. We get a lot of broadcasts from around the globe in Canada, so the awareness is high. It will take time.

The provincial rollouts of lottery corps online platforms will be quick, but where does this go in 12 to 18 months and what are they thinking in terms of other options. We’ll have to wait and see.