Could Legal Sports Betting Be Heading to Canada?

Man Wearing Canadian Flag Under SuitAs the United States presses on with legalising sports betting on a state-by-state basis, north of the border Canada appears to be readying itself for a reform on their current blackout as well.

On Wednesday (February 17), the Bill C-218 – designed by politicians to legalise single-game sports betting across the country – passed a second vote with flying colours, with 303 out of the 318 votes recorded giving the motion the thumbs up.

The Bill, which would be known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act if it passes into law, will now head to a last phase of approval at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. If voted in there, the proposal will pass to the Senate and the Governor-General for formal Royal Assent.

Should it survive that and be passed into law, each of the various provinces would then be able to regulate sports betting in their territory as they wish.

As has been the case in the USA, sports betting has become a vehicle that many states are considering to cover the loss of revenue suffered during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in tourist hot spots, and the feeling is that Canadian law-makers are thinking along the same lines – creating a fully regulated, taxable industry, as opposed to losing revenue to black market operators.

Isn’t Sports Betting Already Legal in Canada?

Gavel and Canadian Currency

Some misleading words used in the various statues covering sports wagering in Canada suggest that betting isn’t wholly illegal, however as it stands you cannot have a flutter on a single outcome in Canada – that’s the perspective of the law, anyway, under Section 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code.

What is slightly bizarre is that you can actually place multiple bets in Canada – or parlays as they are known in the country (in the UK they are referred to as doubles, trebles, accumulators and so on). The rule change outlined above would allow Canadians to bet on single outcomes.

As it is, there aren’t dedicated betting shops in Canada – just the odd horse racing track that takes bets, but that could be set to change. Currently, the bulk of the betting in Canada is performed online, at firms that ‘accept’ Canadian players even if the law suggests they shouldn’t. The black market for Canadians is said to be worth $10 billion annually – more than the $500 million currently wagered legally.

Interestingly, the captive audience for sports betting in Canada is confirmed. The Score, a free gambling app available to Canadian punters, has more than four million active users every day.

Representatives from the NHL, NBA, MLB and CFL, amongst others, have written to Canadian law-makers pledging their support, with Justin Trudeau – the Prime Minister – even holding a summit meeting with a number of key figures from the sporting world.

And a member of his cabinet, Irek Kusmierczyk, has revealed that he believes the government will ‘move this process along quickly’, and that support from all three political parties in Canada is on board.

What Will Canadians Be Able to Bet On?

Ice Hockey Match Between Russia and Canada

Credit: Peter Kirillov (bigstock)

As mentioned, there is one primary aim of Bill C-13 – to legalise single-event sports betting.

So Canadian punters would be able to bet on a single outcome, rather than the parlays currently allowed by law, and that might be bad news for sportsbooks whose margin will be affected.

If the Bill is passed into law, it will then become a choice of each province and territory as to whether they want to allow sports betting or not – some will take the chance almost immediately, you suspect, whereas others might be more reticent to get involved.

Operators that are approved for a licence would be allowed to operate without restriction, creating a regulated sector that creates plenty of taxable revenue for the federal government.

Interestingly, the Bill doesn’t refer to online casino gaming – another grey area for regulators in Canada. Whether that follows in the next couple of years remains to be seen.

But Bill C-13 represents a watershed moment for sports betting in Canada, where an untapped market potentially worth billions is just waiting to be unlocked. There will be many stakeholders within the gambling industry monitoring the situation with interest.