House of Commons Passes Sports Betting Bill C-218 In Landslide Vote After Second Reading
Updated February 22, 2021
By Tom Nightingale
Another major hurdle has been cleared on the road to legalized single-event sports betting in Canada.
On Wednesday, February 17, Bill C-218, MP Kevin Waugh's Private Members Bill, passed at a House of Commons vote in a landslide after its second reading on Friday, February 5.
The bill had near-unanimous all-party support and the vote was a resounding success, with the bill passing by a vote of 303-15.
However, there is still a way to travel down the road. The bill will now be sent to the Commons' Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for further study. If all goes well, it will move to the Senate and then the Governor-General for Royal Assent.
Key advocates of the legislation, including Conservative MP Waugh and CGA President Paul Burns, have long been emphatic about the benefits the legislation would bring. Burns has cited it as a key move in attracting customers back to legal and responsible gambling and in supporting the local and federal gaming industries that have suffered so much during COVID-19.
"We’ve earned support from major unions like Unifor, to communities and mayors who see the gaming industry as a significant contributor to the community and they want them to thrive and continue," Burns told Global News.
Burns noted that the support of professional sports leagues was a significant factor this time around.
"The CFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS — all of these organizations are saying 'get on with this and make it happen.' They’re leveraging their intellectual data. There are also marketing partnerships with gaming companies. They also understand that betting adds to the enjoyment of watching the game for some people. Creating those experiences where the revenue can fall back to the leagues and teams is important... They’re looking for new revenue streams, and ensuring that they’re bringing their fans back to the game as quickly as possible is incredibly important and this can play a role in that."
Burns emphasized he’d rather see $14 billion waged in a system with built-in responsible gaming protections than without, noting that "Canada has some of the best responsible gaming programs in the world."
Waugh had introduced the Private Members Bill back in February 2020. After the landslide vote victory, he called the decision a "an important and common-sense change... that is supported by professional sports leagues, unions, gaming institutions, chambers of commerce, provincial governments, and many other groups."
During the vote itself, Waugh and other proponents in the Commons had voiced their support.
“By passing Bill C-218, we can ensure that going forward, profits from sports wagering are put back into our communities, into health care, education, problem gambling programs, youth sports and other important services rather than the pockets of offshore companies or even criminals," said Waugh.
Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Employment, Irek Kusmierczyk, said passage of the bill would mean greater job security and increased employment in his community of Windsor-Tecumseh.
Meanwhile, Sébastien Lemire, bloc MP for Abitibi—Témiscamingue in Quebec, said approval would improve transparency, better regulate sports betting, and provide the government with additional resources to help vulnerable people struggling with addiction. He described it as “the least we can do” to take meaningful action towards reducing the psychological distress caused by compulsive gambling.
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Other supporters of legalization are now calling for sustained pressure in order to ensure that Bill C-218 makes it across the finish line.
The British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) has urged Ottawa to work collaboratively to get sports betting on the statute books. BCLC says its PlayNow.com website – the only such regulated facility in BC – could quickly create a new suite of sports betting opportunities and work longer term to offer options in land-based casinos and community gaming centres, as well as potentially in hospitality locations that sell lottery products such as bars and pubs.
Adding to the calls for legalization this week was John Levy, Founder and CEO of theScore, who said: “Today’s development in the House of Commons, focusing on the legalization of single event sports betting in Canada, is a significant step forward in the process to amend an outdated law. The positive outcome of today’s vote demonstrates the continuing momentum and strong cross-party support for this issue. We expect that the legalization of single-event sports betting will facilitate the introduction by provinces and territories of a much-needed modernized sports betting framework in their respective jurisdictions that can include important consumer protections and the ability to generate new revenue streams for provincial and territorial governments.”
Bill C-13 pulled
Bill C-218 wasn't the only one that had been moving through the Commons with a view to amending the Criminal Code to allow for legal Canadian singles betting.
Bill C-13, which had been introduced by federal Justice Minister David Lametti, was pulled from debate on February 18 via the rarely-used "Rule of Anticipation". That rule prevents duplicate bills from being advanced through the House of Commons.
Anthony Rota, Speaker of the House of Commons, explained he had "difficulty seeing how the House could move forward with C-13 after it has adopted [Bill C-218] which proposes to repeal the very section of the Criminal Code that C-13 looks to amend".
Consequently, Canada is now all-in on Bill C-218 when it comes to legalizing single-event sports betting.
When it comes to sports betting in Canada, there is important context in the U.S. Since legislation was introduced south of the border in 2018, sports betting has exploded in the states, becoming a roaring success in numerous states. In the fall election, several more states took steps forward in introducing sports betting.
Since then, more steps have been taken. Another significant advancement came late last month, when Google announced it would begin welcoming real-money gambling and daily fantasy mobile apps directly through its Play Store in 15 more countries including both the U.S. and Canada.