Canada may be on the verge of a monumental shift in sports betting.
After recent progress, Bill C-218, an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada which will allow for single-event sports wagering, needs only final House of Commons approval and Senate approval before it passes. The bill would give provinces the authority to license and regulate Canada’s sports wagering industry: until now legal sports betting has been limited to parlay-style games operating by provincial lotteries or unregulated offshore sites.
According to the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), $14 billion annually is spent by Canadians on offshore betting websites and illegal gambling operations.
“(Sports gambling) is not going away,” Paul Burns, president and CEO of the CGA, told the Toronto Star. Burns and the CGA has been a leading vocal advocate for an expansion of the gaming industry across the country. “We’ve had it for decades in this country, and we’re just trying to change the way we do it.”
The Star notes that many bettors don’t realize they’re playing on unregulated sites when they place bets, especially as many gaming companies promote their free-to-play games and other products during televised sporting events and on other media outlets.
Burns and the CGA often receive phone calls from bettors who are seeking assistance in trying to settle disputes with an offshore operation.
“Internet gaming grew up as the wild west,” Burns said. “I was at conferences in 2007 and 2008, and (the offshore businesses) were taking pride in saying they weren’t regulated and they weren’t paying taxes. People were doing their own thing and making a ton of money. The reality is that the world has caught up. Many of the leading companies have been asking the provincial governments ‘will you please regulate us, and we’ll pay taxes.’ ”
Bill C-218 and the potential resulting regulation is seen by the gaming industry as great news, especially for the province of Ontario. Indeed, Burns says the province is well-positioned to begin the licensing process as soon as Bill C-218 passes, and that is will also be wide open for business. OLG, DraftKings, FanDuel, theScore Bet and PointsBets are expected to have a presence in the province’s new regulated betting marketplace, notes the Star.
“What’s attractive in terms of the North American sports market is that Ontario is the fifth or sixth-largest jurisdiction available. Here’s a market of 14 and a half million people.” Burns says. “We’re bigger than Michigan, we have more people than New Jersey, we’re bigger than Pennsylvania… Ontario is going to be a very competitive marketplace.”
“Hockey is going to be the interesting one,” Burns added. “If you can get live in-game wagering right, you’re going to win because we have a very high knowledge base for hockey in this country. There are games almost every night of the week. With Canadian hockey fans, they will watch Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on a Tuesday night because they’re Penguins fans as much as they are a Canadiens fan or a Leafs fan.
“We’re bringing a whole new group of people into the gambling scene because a lot of people who bet on sports won’t consider themselves to be gamblers. They may never go to a casino but they bet on sports every year.”
Again, there is signposting to be followed south of the border: an American Gaming Association study conducted this time last year showed that U.S. bettors were increasingly moving toward regulated companies. Spending with “illegal bookies” dropped 25 per cent in legal betting states in 2019.