Major League Commissioners Back Proposal to Lift Single-Game Betting Ban in Canada

Posted on: June 15, 2020, 11:52h. 

Last updated on: June 16, 2020, 11:13h.

Efforts to legalize single-game sports betting in Canada got a boost last week. That’s when commissioners from five professional sports leagues issued a joint statement supporting a measure that allows the nation’s provinces to legalize the activity.

Canadian sports betting
Canadian Member of Parliament Kevin Waugh gives tribute to Winston Churchill during a session Monday. He and another MP have been pushing national leaders to back a bill that would eliminate a ban on single-game sports bets in the country. (Image: MP Kevin Waugh/Facebook)

The endorsement comes as Canada’s Parliament will gather Wednesday to discuss spending measures tied to the coronavirus pandemic. Sponsors of a bill that would legalize single-game betting are hopeful they can present it even though they face a tight window of opportunity.

Adam Silver of the NBA, Gary Bettman of the NHL, Rob Manfred of MLB, Don Garber of MLS, and Randy Ambroise of the Canadian Football League participated. They said in the release posted Friday on the Canadian Gaming Association’s web site that sports betting offers fans another way to engage in the games.

“Because a legal and regulated sports betting market in Canada would be beneficial to sports and their fans, we urge prompt action to make this a reality,” the sports leaders said.

The statement comes just two years after the NBA, NHL, and MLB – along with the NFL and NCAA – lost an historic case before the US Supreme Court that legalized sports betting in America. In the time since, the justices overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

The sports leagues once raised concerns about the integrity of their games in fighting the state of New Jersey’s attempt to legalize sports betting. But they now claim otherwise. Government regulation of a system that allows bets on individual games would protect both the bettors and the sports, the commissioners said in the joint statement.

Bill Before Parliament

Sports betting is legal in Canada, but limited to parlay betting, which means gamblers must pick the winners in multiple games or events in order to cash out.

Now that sports betting has expanded in the US and been legalized in states bordering Canada, lawmakers are trying once again to end the restriction. In February, MP Kevin Waugh, a Conservative representing Saskatoon-Grasswood in Saskatchewan, filed Bill C-218 that would allow single-game bets.

Joining him in support is MP Brian Masse, a New Democratic Party member representing Windsor West in Ontario. Masse filed a similar bill that died in Ottawa last year.

The two lawmakers wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister David Lametti on Friday, telling the leaders that single-game sports betting could provide economic opportunity for many Canadians.

The gaming and sports industries, and those that rely on them, have not been exempt from the struggles that COVID-19 has brought about,” said Waugh, a sportscaster turned politician, on his Facebook page. “Single-event sport wagering would provide new avenues for these industries to engage with fans and for them to generate revenue in a time when other revenue sources are highly restricted.”

Masse told the Windsor Star that Trudeau and other government leaders should recognize the significance of the commissioners’ statement.

“It’s a vindication of what needed to be done a decade ago,” he said. “It shows Canada is now an outlier in regards to single-event sports betting.”

Waugh, meanwhile, told the paper that he’s hopeful the bill can get passed by Wednesday and that the approval process can be expedited. After Wednesday, Parliament is not scheduled to meet again until September.

Ontario Leaders Also Back Bill

Not only the leagues are behind sports betting. Provincial leaders in Ontario, the nation’s most populous province, are as well.

The southern portion of the province is home to more than 12 million people, more than a third of the country’s entire population. In addition, two US sports betting states border the region, Michigan on the west and New York on the east.

A spokeswoman for Ontario Minister of Finance Rod Phillips told the Windsor Star provincial leaders have asked Ottawa to strike the ban on single-game betting.

“If single-event sports wagering is made legal, our government will work with the federal government and key players in the sports betting market, to ensure changes are implemented in a responsible way,” she said.

Not surprisingly, sportsbooks are interested as well in seeing the restriction go away.

John Levy, the founder of theScore, a Canadian sports media company licensed to operate sports betting applications in the US, said in a statement that single-game betting is already taking place on games in Canada through illegal and unregulated methods.

“For the past two years, the United States has demonstrated the kind of tangible consumer and tax benefits related to regulated sports betting that could be similarly impactful in Canada,” Levy said.