Anyone looking for the most unlikely of wagers at the start of 2020 may not have even considered looking at the chances of Canada’s current Liberal Party of Canada government embracing sports wagering by the end of the year. However, in the wake of a global pandemic, massive government stimulus packages, financial deficits, and rising debt, we have seen that in 2020 anything is possible.
As such, in late November, Canada’s Federal Justice Minister, David Lametti, introduced Bill C-13, "An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting)." That legislation, should it be passed, would permit provinces and territories to regulate and license single-event sports betting on any sporting event except horse racing.
With the majority of provinces now supporting the loosening of the national restriction, which has for decades allowed only parlay bets involving at least two or more events, sports fans across the country could be able to legally bet on a single event such as a win for the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Raptors as soon as next year.
Of course, Canadian betting enthusiasts have been close to the finishing line before. Most recently, in 2016, a vote on single-game sports wagering Bill C-221 was voted down in the House of Commons. At that time, expansion was opposed by the same Liberal Party that is in power today, as well as three of the four major sports leagues that operate across North America.
Things, however, are different this time around.
The recent game-changer was the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) in the U.S. in 2018 – allowing U.S. states to regulate sports betting at their own discretion. Suddenly, Canadians could cross the border to Michigan or New York and bet on the sports they love, while the major sports leagues and their teams embraced new partnerships and revenue streams that sports gambling created.
After years of legalized sports betting in various European nations and Nevada (which opted out of PASPA in 1992), along with the additional data from the last two years post-PASPA repeal, Canadian lawmakers can now see that a regulated sports betting industry does not lead to an apocalypse of moral societal decay, gambling addiction, or match-fixing. In fact, if anything, it will likely encourage Canadians who bet an estimated CDN$14B per year (according to the Canadian Gaming Association - http://canadiangaming.ca/canadas-casinos-threatened-by-liberal-stance-on-sports-betting-proponents-warn/) with dubious or unlicensed entities to safely switch to betting with newly regulated operators, creating thousands of new jobs. Most importantly, those in charge of public coffers see an opportunity to finance their spending with a slew of new taxes. All in all, it could be considered a win-win-win scenario for everyone involved in Canada.
Assuming that single-event sports betting progresses in Ottawa, what’s next? A federal framework is no longer a serious ambition in the U.S. and we can likely expect that the future of Canada’s betting landscape would be similar, thus leading to a patchwork of licensed regimes in each province.
Ontario has already shown its hand after its premier, Doug Ford, outlined plans to allow private gambling operators to compete with the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation (OLG) monopoly in a speech delivered more than a year ago. Ford recently added further details when he released Ontario’s budget for 2020-21, explaining that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) would take the role of building the regulatory framework immediately after the federal law changes. Canada’s most populous province includes Toronto, Canada’s largest city, and various U.S. interests including prominent major league sports franchises. It is determined to bring new private operators into its gambling sector, and we might expect other provinces will soon decide to open up sports betting to private operators as well once everything begins to unfold.
Canada has the benefit of being able to learn from the last two years of progress in the U.S. since PASPA was repealed. Provinces can glean from their peers in the many U.S. states where betting frameworks have been developed when making decisions on taxation, licence restrictions, marketing, and technology. The recent U.S. election, too, saw tangible steps forward in several other states, including three more legalizing sports betting.
The transition must be done properly, though. A core concern for regulators when determining policy must be to hire appropriate experts and be serious about taking this newly minted industry forward in a manner that will benefit all stakeholders. Limiting sports betting to parlay action only, or keeping it in the hands of the government through ordained monopolies, has not only proven to be inefficient, but it also generally leads to continued betting with unregulated operators. Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the federal and provincial governments will allow private operators to compete for Canadian sports betting business while not getting overly oppressive with rules and levies.
Chris Kape is an iGaming industry veteran of two decades. He is the owner of JAMCO Capital, an early-stage venture capital and business consultancy, and the founder and ex-CEO of Don Best Sports, which was sold to Scientific Games in 2018.