On February 25, 2020, the most recent attempt to legalize single-event sports betting in Canada was introduced in Parliament as a private member’s bill by Saskatoon-Grasswood Conservative MP Kevin Waugh. The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act (Bill C-218) was tabled with cooperation from Windsor-West NDP MP Brian Masse, who withdrew his private member’s bill on the same matter to allow Waugh to table the bill sooner. Bill C-218 seeks to amend s. 207 of the Criminal Code and, if finally passed, make it legal to bet on the outcome of a single sporting event in Canada.
LEGAL SPORTS BETTING IN NORTH AMERICA
As it stands, the Criminal Code specifically prohibits wagering on the outcome of a single sporting event. As a result, Canadians are currently only permitted to place wagers on sporting events through a “parlay” bet, meaning they must bet on and correctly predict the outcome of at least two or more games to win.
In the last decade, there have been several unsuccessful legislative attempts to repeal or amend the Criminal Code restriction on single sports betting:
In 2011, Windsor-Tecumseh NDP MP Joe Comartin introduced private member’s bill C-627, which failed to progress past its first reading in the House of Commons;
In 2012, Comartin came back with private member’s bill C-290 (Bill C-290). Bill C-290 received all party support but stalled for three years in the Senate, ultimately dying when Parliament was dissolved before the 2015 election;
In 2016, Masse introduced private member’s bill C-221 (Bill C-221). After supporting the nearly identical Bill C-290 just a few years prior, the Liberal government opposed Bill C-221. The bill was defeated by a count of 156-133 at its second reading in the House of Commons.
Across the border, the single sports betting market is growing rapidly following a 2018 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down federal restrictions on sports betting in states other than Nevada. Since that ruling, at least 12 U.S. states—including New York, New Jersey and Michigan—have passed legislation allowing single sports betting. The U.S. market has since seen several major partnerships established between U.S. sports betting providers and the NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS.
Given the rapidly expanding U.S. market, Canadian industry support for legislative change is at an all time high. Bill C-218 is fully supported by the Canadian Gaming Association and Unifor, and the Ontario government—amongst other provincial governments—has reportedly asked the federal government for legalized single sports betting at least eight times in the last 10 years. The 2019 Ontario budget also cites support for single-event sports wagering in Canada by the NHL, NBA, CFL and MLS.
Given the U.S. developments and widespread Canadian industry support for repealing the current sports betting restrictions, it will be interesting to see how this latest attempt to introduce legislative change is received in Parliament. The first reading of Bill C-218 occurred on February 25, 2020. For Bill C-218 to become law, it will need to pass through two more readings in the House of Commons before it is sent to the Senate for consideration. Only once the governor general gives the bill royal assent will it become law.
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