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The bill — C-221 — has been submitted as a private member’s bill, so it is not part of the federal government’s legislative agenda.
The text is succinct, and simply repeals a part of the criminal code so as to allow Canadian provinces to “conduct and manage a lottery scheme in the province that involves betting on a race or fight or on a single sport event or athletic contest.”
The bill is strongly supported in Masse’s home constituency of Windsor, which sits on the border with the U.S. Across the Detroit River lies Michigan, where State Senator Mike Kowall has just submitted his bill to introduce state regulated online gambling.
The Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce just convened a strategy session in Ottawa, specifically to raise support for the new measure.
There is a Caesars casino in Windsor, and Chamber of Commerce President Matt Marchand believes that the bill would provide much needed support for the local economy.
“This would be a new gaming product and would allow Caesars Windsor to be first in the market place,” said Marchand. “And we know once people experience Caesars Windsor they will come back and that will help drive tourism, jobs and revenue for the region.”
The option to offer sports betting could give Canadian casinos an advantage over their rivals in Michigan and Ohio. Marchand believes that there would be an extra 100 jobs created at the Caesars casino with legal sports betting, with the potential for many more.
The bill does have a chance of becoming law, but the final outcome is difficult to handicap. The bill, as C-290, was presented in the last parliamentary session but failed to pass.
“We have been working with a number of different groups and MPs and senators to line this up,” said Masse. He has argued that sports betting generates around $10 billion per year, and that legislation is the best way to prevent criminal elements from dominating the market.
“It’s about redirecting money from organized crime to that of a regulated, safer, accountable process,” said Masse.
His arguments could resonate with the gaming industry and lawmakers in the U.S. The prospect of many U.S. citizens having legal sports betting only a short drive away, albeit across an international border, could increase the pressure for reform from several states.
If Canada allows legal sports betting, and U.S. casinos along the Canadian border feel a real economic impact, then state politicians will have more evidence with which to support the contention that sports betting should be a state responsibility — regardless of the existing federal law. Right now the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act prevents almost all states from authorizing sports betting.
The potential for provincially regulated sports betting could also change the game for many online operators. The current laws regarding offshore operators offering internet gambling to Canadian citizens are opaque.
Many offshore operators, such as Bet365, have a significant sports betting presence in the Canadian market. Current legislation would not only make their presence in the market a legal gray area, it lacks the tools to counter the offshore offer.
In Quebec, the government is attempting to pass a bill to force ISPs to block access to unlicensed internet gambling sites. The measure was originally aimed at bolstering the revenues of Loto-Quebec, but has since morphed into a consumer protection bill.
It is opposed by many groups outside the gambling industry, primarily on the basis that it exceeds the powers of the provincial government, but civil rights activists also object to any attempts to limit access to information on the internet.
A federal bill to allow sports betting would certainly prompt calls for more effective federal regulation to prevent unfair competition from offshore online providers.
Many online poker operators have left the Canadian market in the past couple of years as the result of regulatory concerns. If Masse’s bill does pass, and the federal government takes further steps to block offshore operators, more could join the exodus.