Is single-game sports betting gaining legal traction in Canada?

09 February 2021

Betting on a single sports game is currently illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada.[1] While the Criminal Code prohibits single-game sports betting, it creates exceptions for a parlay-style system.[2] Parlay-style betting requires an individual to bet on two or more events and accounts for approximately $500 million in legal provincial wagers.[3] However, Canadians are betting close to $14 billion a year through offshore websites and illegal bookmaking operations.[4] Under a new bill recently introduced by Justice Minister David Lametti, the $14 billion that Canadians gamble offshore could soon be legalized in Canada.



Bill C-13 (the "Bill")[5], which was introduced last November, would remove the prohibition on single-game sports betting in Canada and allow the provinces to regulate the industry.[6] The Bill adopts suggestions forwarded in a private members' bill[7] introduced earlier this year and is expected to draw support across bipartisan lines.[8] The Bill comes at a time when Canada faces increased competition from America after the US Supreme Court paved the way for legalized sports betting in the States.[9]

Proponents for legalizing single-game sports betting in Canada point to the revenue potential gambling could funnel into the economy, bringing both jobs and economic benefits.[10] The Canadian Gaming Association stated allowing single-game sports betting would serve as an economic stimulus, create hundreds of employment opportunities, and generate a significant new tax revenue stream for cities across Canada.[11] Others claim removing prohibitions against single-game sports betting in Canada could have huge market impacts. In Ontario alone, one Canadian-based digital sports media company estimates $1.5-2.1 billion in annual gross gaming revenue.[12]

Those opposed to the legislation argue sporting events could fall prey to match fixing, undermining the integrity of professional sports. Declan Hill, an associate professor of investigations at the University of New Haven, argued in the Globe and Mail that the Bill is flawed. He contends Canada should also create a federal law targeting match fixing before legalizing single-game sports betting.[13] The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport notes similar match fixing concerns.[14] Further, legalizing single-game sports betting could contribute to growing addiction problems. Declan highlights easier access to sports betting could "fuel addiction in the demographic that is not always known for making sensible choices – men aged 14 to 35."[15] With the added difficulty in monitoring underage betting, addiction problems could become more acute.

Others opposed to the legislation claim single-game sports betting creates an arena to bankrupt customers and drain money from the economy. Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, in debating the mirroring private members' bill, noted casinos take four dollars out of the local economy for every dollar that goes into it.[16] Vaughan believes casinos are now looking to single-event sports betting as a way to supplement their income after bankrupting their previous clientele.

With the recent growth in the US gambling industry and Canadians appetite for gambling, the latest attempt to legalize single-game sports betting in Canada may prove successful. With the Bill garnering support from several multi-national sport organizations, the legislative change could come at a particularly poignant time when Canada's economy needs a boost from the COVID-19 pandemic.[17] Parliament is expected to debate the Bill in early 2021.

 

[1] Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 s 207(4)(b).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Canadian Gaming Association, "Canadian Gaming Association Urges Quick Action on Legislation for Sports Betting" (3 November 2020), online: Canadian Gaming Association <https://mailchi.mp/1f569daf0683/cga-urges-quick-action-on-legislation-for-sports-betting> [CGA].

[4] Ibid.

[5] "Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (single event sport betting), 2nd Sess, 43rd Parl, 2020 (first reading 26 November 2020).

[6] Justice Minister David Lametti emphasized the bill's objective was to move single-game betting into a legal, regulated environment. See Department of Justice, Backgrounder: Proposed changes to Canada's Criminal Code relating to sports betting (November 26 2020).

[7] Bill C-218, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting), 1st Sess, 43rd Parl, 2020 (second reading 28 February 2020).

[8] Matt Rybaltowski, "Canadian Bill on Single-Game Sports Betting Tabled Until After Christmas" (11 December 2020), online: Sports Handle <https://sportshandle.com/canada-bill-tabled-121120/>.

[9] Murphy v National Collegiate Athletic Association Christie vs NCAA, 138 S Ct 1461 (2018).

[10] "Bill C-218, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting)" 2nd reading, House of Commons Debates, 43-2, No 025 (3 November 2020) at 1720 & 1725 (Mr. Kevin Waugh).

[11] CGA, supra note 3.

[12] Brad Allen, "Finding the Biggest Winners from Expanded Canada Sports Betting" (2 December 2020), online: Legal Sports Report <www.legalsportsreport.com/46185/canada-sports-betting-winners/>.

[13] Declan Hill, "Expanding Sports Betting Without Banning Match-Fixing is a Recipe for Trouble" (11 December 2020), online: Globe and Mail <www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-expanding-sports-betting-without-banning-match-fixing-is-a-recipe-for/?utm_medium=Referrer:+Social+Network+/+Media&utm_campaign=Shared+Web+Article+Links>.

[14] McClaren Global Sport Solutions & Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, "Match Manipulation

and Gambling: A Growing Threat to Canadian Sport Integrity" (24 & 25 April 2019), online (pdf): <https://cces.ca/sites/default/files/content/docs/pdf/cces-mgss-matchman-whitepaper-execsum-e-web.pdf>.

[15] Hill, supra note 13.

[16] "Bill C-218, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting)" 2nd reading, House of Commons Debates, 43-2, No 025 (3 November 2020) at 1730 (Mr. Adam Vaughan).

[17] National Baseball Association et al, Joint Statement, "Joint Statement From the Commissioners of the National Baseball Association, National Hockey League, Major Baseball League, Major League Soccer and Canadian Football League" (8 June 2020), online (pdf): <http://canadiangaming.ca/wp-content/uploads/Leagues-Joint-Statement.pdf>.


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