Canada on the Brink of Fully Legal Sports Betting

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30-second summary:

  • Sports betting is currently limited in Canada
  • It is not possible to place sports bets on single games
  • The Ontario finance minister has written to the federal finance minister calling for change
  • As legal sports betting spreads across the US, significant money could cross the border

Gambling laws in Canada

Eleven provinces in Canada currently have some form of gambling. In total, there are 219 gambling facilities in the country. The laws vary among the specific provinces as to what forms of gambling are legal. The only province that does not have a casino is Newfoundland and Labrador.

All provinces allow video lottery terminals except for British Columbia and Ontario. There are racinos in many of the provinces. The revenues from gaming machines help the tracks to stay in operation, given the declining revenues in the racing industry.

Charitable gaming has been legal since 1969 as a result of the Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Gaming and Liquor Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. Only charitable or religious organizations can offer charitable gaming and they must obtain a license.

Charitable gaming includes raffles, casino table games and bingo. Revenue deriving from these events can only go towards paying for approved expenses. All the provinces have lotteries, with some of them covering more than one province.

Only the provincial governments can offer any forms of online gambling. First Nation tribes do not fall under this approach. For example, the Kahnawake Tribe offers licenses to online gambling platforms.

Where provincial governments run online gaming, the games usually have strict limits and not much of an offering. While using unlicensed offshore gambling platforms is not legal, many Canadians still use them without fear of prosecution.

The push for gambling expansion

There have been moves in Quebec to try and change this. The provincial government tried to force internet service providers to block residents in Quebec from accessing unlicensed platforms. However, the Superior Court in Quebec deemed this move to be unconstitutional in August 2018. The provincial government is now filing an appeal. 

Pari-mutuel betting is permitted in Canada. It is the only gambling activity that the federal government regulates, through the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency.

There is a very limited form of sports betting on offer in Canada. No single bets are allowable; they all have to be parlay bets. Attempts to make single bets allowable have been met with resistance. However, there now seems to be some hope emerging on this issue.

Full sports betting on the way?

Canada will have been looking with some interest at the ending of the federal ban on sports betting in the US. The lure of significant taxation revenue and the creation of new jobs is always going to pique the interest of lawmakers.

The Ontario finance minister Vic Fedeli has written to the federal finance minister, Bill Morneau, in relation to changing the law on sports betting. He is requesting a change in the Criminal Code of Canada in order to allow betting on single games in the province.

At the moment, the only sports betting product in Ontario is the Pro-Line offering from the government. This only allows bettors to place bets with at least three selections.

Fedeli says that legal sports betting in the US will likely siphon significant revenue from Canada if this does not change. He believes that by implementing this change, annual tax revenues in the region could generate an additional C$110m annually in Ontario.

Support from the leagues

Both Major League Soccer (MLS) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) are in favor of this move.

Attempts in 2012 and 2013 to expand on sports betting laws were met with resistance from some of the major sports leagues. However, now that sports betting is legal in the US, the Canadian leagues are accepting, and therefore unlikely to oppose such a move in Canada.

As about 90% of the entire population in Canada lives at most 100 miles from the border with the US, there is a significant chance that a lot of money will go across the border if changes are not made. There has been no indication as to what the federal government’s view on the issue is, so Canadians will have to take a wait and see approach.