Single Event Sports Betting in Canada’s Cards After First Bill Debate

  • Bill C-218 seeks to repeal a Canadian law that makes wagering on single sporting events illegal
  • Single event sports betting is believed to make CA$14bn for illegal, offshore operations per year
  • The bill has near unanimous backing across provincial governments, industry, sports, and civic bodies
sports fan with Canadian flag
For the first time ever, the House of Commons in Ottawa debated Bill C-218, giving fresh hope for the introduction of single event sports betting in Canada. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Bill debated for an hour

Kevin Waugh, Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Grasswood, introduced Bill C-218 into the House of Commons in Ottawa for the second time on November 3. The bill was subjected to an hour of debate for the very first time, sparking fresh impetus for the introduction of single event sports betting in Canada.

The bill, also known as The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, was first introduced in February 2020. The act is seeking to repeal paragraph 207(4)(b) of Canada’s Criminal Code, under which bettors can only place bets on a minimum of three games, meaning that a wager on a single sporting event or athletic contest is illegal.

Waugh posted a tweet featuring a video recording of the bill’s second reading and said he was proud of the support for “this common sense change”:

Introducing the debate, Waugh said that the gaming industry pays CA$6.7bn (US$5.13bn) per year in salaries and generates more than CA$9bn (US$6.9bn) in revenue for governments and charities. He added that single-event sports betting is a CA$14bn (US$10.7bn) per year industry in Canada, but that “unfortunately all of that activity is taking place underground.”

Appetite for wagering in Canada

According to the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), of the billions Canadians are wagering via offshore websites and illegal bookmaking operations annually, only CA$500m (US$383m) flows through provincial sports-betting coffers.

CGA president and CEO Paul Burns said that helping gaming facilities open sportsbooks would create economic stimulus, provide job opportunities, and generate a considerable new tax revenue flow into cities across Canada.

“Parliament should come together and help push this change through before the chance is lost to another election,” Burns said.

Burns also stressed how the small amendment to the Criminal Code would help communities recover from the economic fallout of COVID-19.

It’s simple, but it’s like a ghost haunting the halls of Parliament.”

During the hour-long debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin said his party would vote in favor of Bill C-218. Fortin said the bill is “pretty straightforward. It’s simple, but it’s like a ghost haunting the halls of Parliament.”

November 5, 2020 marked the first time the bill was debated in the Commons.

Widespread backing

John Levy, founder and CEO of digital sports media brand theScore, welcomed the second reading of the bill. In a statement, Levy articulated strong support for amending “Canada’s outdated federal laws,” saying that:

Canadians deserve a modernized, regulated, and competitive sports betting market”

Across Canada, the proposed amendment has near unanimous support among provincial governments, business organizations such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and labor organizations including the Canadian Labour Congress and Unifor. Sports bodies, law enforcement, mayors, and community leaders have also thrown their hats into the ring.

Commissioners of five professional sports leagues operating in Canada sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June, urging “prompt action” in allowing single event sports betting to take place.

The NBA’s Adam Silver, NHL’s Gary Bettman, MLB’s Rob Manfred, MLS’s Don Garber and the CFL’s Randy Ambrosie all signed the June 8 statement which was sent to Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and Attorney General of Canada and Justice Minister Dave Lametti, along with other key government leaders.

Waugh, along with New Democratic Party MP Brian Masse, first introduced Bill C-218 into the House of Commons in February 2020.