The Canadian Gaming Association’s decade-long pursuit of a legislative amendment to legalize single-event sports wagering will hopefully be realized in 2021. Near constant effort over the years to build a broad coalition of support with labour, business, and sport and community organizations has kept the issue on the legislative agenda and earned Bill C-218 – first introduced by Kevin Waugh, MP for Saskatoon-Greenwood, as a Private Member’s Bill last year – all-party support in the House of Commons.
The common sentiment by all stakeholders is that this legislation is long overdue. US sports betting is flourishing, and Canada’s gaming industry and sports leagues recognize how they can benefit from it. From a consumer protection point, it’s impossible to ensure responsible gambling tools are available when an activity is taking place in the shadows.
Only by regulating single-event sports betting can we be sure customers are protected and that benefits flow to legal operators and the communities in which they're generated.
On February 17, by an overwhelming majority of 303-15, Bill C-218 was sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for further study. Approximately 30 witnesses have appeared over five days of hearings, including, but not limited to, the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, a provincial lottery corporation, the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA), the former Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, the Responsible Gambling Council, the NHL and the CGA. Even more organizations have submitted briefs to the committee, which are available to view and download.
Hearings wrapped up on March 25 and, two days later, C-218 was unanimously approved by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The sole amendment to the bill is a carve-out for Canada’s horse racing industry, which first appeared in Bill C-13 and gives the Canadian Pari-Mutual Agency sole oversight of wagers placed on horse racing.
The Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency is a Canadian government agency of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada that regulates and supervises pari-mutuel betting on horse racing at racetracks across the country, to ensure pari-mutuel betting is done in a fair way to benefit the public. Fixed odds wagering on horse racing will not be permitted.
At press time, the final debate on C-218 is expected to take place in the House of Commons, and will then need to repeat the process in the Senate, which we hope will begin in soon after.
As we look ahead to the Senate process, which can be slow, moving, it’s useful to take note of the witness testimony of a handful of important stakeholders which reflects the key messages we will carry forward to the Senators who will be evaluating the bill.
The CGA itself noted it is only through the regulation of this activity that it can be brought out of the shadows where it currently operates and into the light, where we can ensure that proper player protections are available and enforced. Across the country, provinces are working on their regulatory standards in preparation for the legalization of single-event sports betting. The important point to remember is that the Criminal Code amendment only legalizes single-event sports betting. After that, it will be up to each province to decide how and when (and if) it will offer the products and services. The CGA’s Regulatory Innovation Committee, established in 2019 as a platform for industry and regulators to examine forward-looking regulatory innovation – in particular in the areas of harmonization and operational efficiency – is currently working to develop standards for single-event sports wagering, as there is a need to address issues that will be specific to the implementation of sport and event wagering in Canada. We remain hopeful that after 10 years, the CGA and all affected stakeholders will be successful in legalizing single-event sports betting in Canada.
Shelley White, CEO, Responsible Gambling Council
“RGC believes it's in the best interest of Canadians and Canadian society as a whole that Bill C 218 should be passed. The good news is we don't need to recreate the wheel. Most of the standards already exist and are in place in land-based gambling, and we also have the benefit of lessons learned from other jurisdictions.”
Zane Hansen, President & CEO, SIGA
[Regulated single-event sports betting] also protects the interests of our customers. As regulated operators, we make sure our customers are well-informed on the games we provide, and the integrity of the game is preserved. So as legal operators, we are held to high standards of accountability in areas such as industry regulation, responsible gaming and processing of financial transactions. I think it would improve that whole area.
Keith Wachtel, chief business officer and senior EVP of Global Partnerships, NHL
“Though the NHL had previously opposed single-event sports wagering, for the reasons we have publicly stated on the record, the practical reality is that the landscape in North America has changed. Our experience in the United States … has demonstrated that a well-regulated marketplace that both advances and protects the interests of relevant constituencies can be established in a safe and responsible manner."