Canada’s move to legalize single-event sports betting has been hailed by all corners of the Canadian gaming and sports industries as a potentially transformative moment for gambling north of the border.
The legislation is the result of a sustained and widely supported push to revamp Canadian gaming and open up a regulated marketplace that will allow the industry to thrive and take the power back from grey market and offshore operators, enhancing responsible gaming measures and bringing profits back into Canada.
The Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) has been a longtime and tireless advocate for the change, led from the front by President and CEO Paul Burns.
In a recent Q&A with Bookies.com, Burns discussed how he expects single-game Canadian sports betting to map out now that legislation has been passed.
The U.S. influence
Burns has repeatedly cited the widespread support of Canadian political parties, gaming operators, major sports leagues, and others within the industry as a key factor in finally getting legislation over the line. He also noted that the development of sports betting in the United States since the repeal of PASPA in 2018 had “heightened awareness” of sports betting in the U.S. and, in turn, in Canada.
“It became a topic of conversation in the sports industry,” he told Bookies.com. “There was no good reason not to (do it). That’s the other part. There was nobody standing on the opposite side of the debate saying no to it. There really was no one.”
The CGA has estimated in the recent past that the size of the current offshore market in Canada is in excess of $4 billion. Burns emphasized that the speed with which those proceeds are reclaimed by the Canadian regulated market depends on how the changes are rolled out from province to province, althoug he expects it to happen quickly.
“Ontario poses the greatest opportunity in the sports betting market, because Ontario sports betting is proceeding with an open license for online gaming, separate from this bill,” Burns said. “But when you get outside of Ontario, you’re still looking at some jurisdictions where the lottery corporation may still be the only offer of sports betting. The grey market will continue to live outside of Ontario. That’s the other issue.”
Burns noted that if provinces like British Columbia and Québec continue to operate in a manner that leaves British Columbia Lottery Corporation and Loto-Québec as the only regulated offerings rather than licensing or allowing private operators to enter the marketplace, there is a risk that the grey market could continue to thrive.
“What we’re hoping is that a number of jurisdictions will look upon this as an opportunity to deal with the grey market and begin the process of picking a regulatory model that suits them… No one is going to do what Ontario is doing, because it takes a larger market to do that. But the tethering model that’s been used in the United States, where there’s a limited number of licenses involved tied to casinos, could be a model that other provinces follow. We’re waiting to see what that is.”
One particular aspect that will vary from province to province is the variety of avenues that are available to Canadian bettors. Sports betting will likely continue to be a predominantly online and/or mobile product, but some jurisdictions may choose to also offer retail options or in-casino offerings. “That really changes a whole lot of things if that happens,” noted Burns. “Serious sports bettors like to shop odds, so is a provincial lottery operation going to do it for everybody? There is going to be an enhanced Pro-Line offering coming this fall but where, how, what? We don’t know that. Outside of Ontario, there’s still lots of questions.”
With so much still to be decided, it’s tough to map out an exact timeline for the rollout of Canada’s revamped sports betting market. But Burns is cautiously optimistic that at least some jurisdictions can be operational by Labour Day weekend in early September.
“We’re waiting on one small hurdle: it’s up to the cabinet to recommend an enactment datel,” Burns said. “They haven’t done that yet. We expect them to do that soon… Some provinces want to go really quickly.”
Burns pointed to B.C. and Québec as provinces that could be up and running soon as they already have established platforms. “So, online, yes, I can see it (by Labour Day). Can we see retail and sportsbooks in casinos? We hope soon. That’s the next phase. The casino industry really wants to have a product offering in their facilities in time for the fall sports season and that’s going to take a lot of work. I know Ontario wants to see that.”
Whenever things do get up and running in earnest, Canadian consumers can look forward to taking advantage of a whole host of options. Burns explained that numerous sportsbooks, including offerings from market leaders in the U.S. like PointsBet, DraftKings, and FanDuel and also European sites, are keen to get up and running in Canada.
“They’re all very interested in the marketplace,” Burns concluded. “I suspect there will be a very robust market.”
Read the full Q&A with Paul Burns on Bookies.com here.