Canada Single-Event Sports Betting Bill Progresses Without Horse Racing

  • A House of Commons committee removed the horse racing aspect of the bill on Thursday
  • Its inclusion in the legislation would have meant a complete overhaul of the racing system 
  • Pari-mutuel betting revenue is a major source of income for the country’s horse racing industry
  • The House will complete a third reading and vote on the bill again post-Easter recess
  • Lawmakers are hopeful of its passage as attitudes about this big potential market are changing
flags of Canada against a mountain backdrop
A House committee has excluded horse racing from a bill that aims to legalize single-event sports betting in Canada and proceeded to vote in favor of the measure’s passage. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

The sole amendment

A bill seeking to introduce legal single-event sports betting in Canada made progress on Thursday after a House committee removed horse racing from the proposed legislation.

Bill C-218 in its previous form would have required a complete overhaul of the horse racing system in Canada. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights decided to remove the horse racing aspect of the bill after completing its review of the legislation on Thursday.

The exclusion implies that legal sportsbooks would not be able to offer single-event horse race betting if the bill is successful. The Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA) would remain in charge of the regulation of the horse racing sector in the country. The agency collects 0.8% from every wager on a horse race and distributes the money to racetracks and provincial and federal governments.

protect this revenue stream for the benefit of approximately 50,000 jobs across Canada”

Betting revenue from the pari-mutuel system is a major source of income for the horse racing industry in Canada. In calling for the amendment to C-218, MP Vance Badawey said the move to prohibit fixed-odds wagering on horse racing via sportsbooks would “protect this revenue stream for the benefit of approximately 50,000 jobs across Canada.”

A final consideration in the House

Members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights voted unanimously to exclude horse racing and were in favor of advancing the bill. The next step will see the House potentially considering further amendments during the report stage.

No date has been set for the beginning of this process. It does not appear that it will happen before April 12, as MPs have a two-week recess for Easter starting this weekend.

After assessing the bill for the third time, MPs will vote on the matter once more. If successful, legislation will then advance to the Senate and later to the Governor-General for Royal Assent. In the initial House vote on Bill C-218, 303 MPs were in favor of passage, with 15 votes cast against its progression. The bill received majority support across all political parties.

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh introduced Bill C-218 in February. He previously expressed hope that the bill would make its way into the Senate by the end of April or the beginning of May. He now believes that a third reading of the bill will not begin until mid-May.

Long-time legal single-event sports betting proponent MP Brian Masse welcomed the news of the latest progress for Bill C-218. He said: “Today shows there continues to be broad support for this, which is great.”

A push for single-event sports betting

In recent years, a number of lawmakers in Canada have repeatedly tried to push through single-event sports betting legislation, with little success. Now, the odds of Bill C-218 getting the green light look a lot more favorable than for any other past attempt.

a significant boost to the country’s economy, particularly in the current climate

One reason is the easing of attitudes in North America in relation to sports betting. The United States established sports betting as federally legal in May 2018, and more than two dozen states have legalized betting since then. Canadian lawmakers also believe that legal sports betting would provide a significant boost to the country’s economy, particularly in the current climate of economic uncertainty created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian Gaming Association estimates that Canadians bet about CA$10bn (US$7.96bn) annually through illegal bookmakers mostly linked to organized crime, while CA$4bn (US$3.2bn) is wagered with offshore sportsbooks. Only about CA$500m (US$397.9m) each year goes through legal provincial sports betting lottery channels. Currently, legal sportsbooks in Canada can only accept parlay bets and no single event wagers.