If you were asked to name the most exciting sports betting market in North America right now, where would it be? New Jersey, the poster child for the legal sports betting market ever since PASPA was overturned? Nearby Pennsylvania, where online gaming has been similarly embraced? Could it be Colorado, Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan or any of the recently launched, burgeoning state marketplaces?
In the here and now, all of the above and more are generating the kind of buzz that was merely a vision in early 2018. Now, it’s a full-blown reality and myriad headline partnerships, state revenue reports and marketing offers are ensuring legal sports betting is truly making waves on a national scale in the US. Yet, among those with a view to the future, there is awe at the potential of key markets that have yet to even legalize sports wagering. How big, for example, can California or New York become in terms of both legal sports betting handle and revenue?
You may have noticed, however, that our question referred to North America and not the US specifically. Indeed, looking north, it’s no understatement to suggest sports wagering in Canada could yet generate more excitement than any other up-and-coming market. That’s saying a lot given the prestigious list of aforementioned names. With the news in late 2020 that Canada is on the path to legalizing single-event sports wagering, headlines and optimism were created in equal measure. The industry has not failed to notice the potential uptick in Canada’s sports betting future.
For anyone who either works or partakes in sports betting, the notion of there being no single-event wagering will sound completely bizarre. If you want to back the Super Bowl winner, US Open Champion (golf or tennis), or bet on the NBA playoff finals, you simply can’t. That is unless you combine it as part of a two or three-way parlay (as a minimum). With those odds, the house will almost certainly win long term, meaning fun and entertainment, but also the ability to apply skill and analysis, are all severely reduced.
It has rightly been described as archaic now that Canada’s sports betting future looks so much brighter, with a genuinely competitive marketplace able to develop to meet genuine demand. FansUnite Entertainment CEO Scott Burton was keen to laud the opportunity in the Jan/Feb edition of Gambling Insider, while Brian Wyman, partner at the Innovation Group, stressed the necessity of this legalization in a January edition of GI Friday. Two crucial reasons Wyman put forward were competition from border states in the US and the fact so much of Canada’s current sports betting is done on the gray market.
He wrote: “What does this mean for Canada? Canada’s legal and regulated sports betting market was approximately C$200m (US$158.5m) in 2019, including interactive. Meanwhile, the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) estimates that more than C$4bn was wagered on offshore gray market interactive sports wagering sites, or another approximately C$200m in revenue. And a whopping C$10bn, or C$500m in revenue, was wagered illegally with bookies within Canada. The Innovation Group forecasts that the legal and regulated Canadian sports betting market can approximate C$1.9bn, nearly 10x its current volume, within five years.”
These numbers are not to be sneezed at and, in a statement back in November 2020, CGA president & CEO Paul Burns (who appears later in this issue) further stressed the necessity of legalization due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Burns said: “Amending the Criminal Code to legalize single-event sports wagering will provide provinces with the necessary tools to deliver a safe and legal option to Canadians while enabling economic benefits to flow to licensed gaming operators, communities and provincial governments. I can’t emphasize enough how this small change to the Criminal Code would help communities recover from the economic devastation of the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown.”
It is a hopeful time in general for Canadian gaming, despite the effects of the pandemic, because of the promise online betting brings. In Ontario, online gaming is on its way to becoming legalized, with the CGA again applauding legislation that aims to make this a reality. According to the Association, online gaming has been gaining in acceptance in Canada for more than a decade. Ontarians are said to already be playing online on a daily basis – so why not legalize this form of gambling with appropriate regulatory oversight?
Again, though, Burns couldn’t fail to mention how influential US sports betting success has been in showing the need for Canada to follow suit. Rather than looking on in jealousy, Canadian gaming stakeholders can foresee real promise in their future if a similar system is replicated. Naturally, responsible gaming concerns may be at the forefront of anyone still opposed to Canadian sports betting or online gaming. Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, features later in this issue and recently spoke as part of the GI Huddle’s problem gambling series. There, he admitted the US is far behind the UK – where systems and attitudes are still far from perfect – on the responsible gambling front.
But that in itself is all the more reason to regulate than not regulate, ensuring a system can be put in place to safeguard players. As the CGA has previously noted, plenty is already wagered by Canadian bettors, but simply not as part of a legal market, thereby not helping the country’s tax revenue and always adding that extra element of risk for players. Besides, if a sports bettor wanting to wager on a single event then has to add two more picks just to make it legal, the law is actually encouraging players to gamble less responsibly.
Clearly, there are still some complications and intricacies to get past, with Canada – like any market – having its own unique nature (even more so, each province within Canada). But the time to move ahead looks to have arrived for Canadian sports betting and perhaps Ontario online gaming, too, and the excitement it is generating is fully justified. The US has been talked about as the go-to, high-growth sports betting market within global gaming for some time. Now Canada can begin to enter that conversation, too.