While the US was busy electing a president Tuesday, Canadian lawmakers took another step toward expanding legal sports betting in the Great White North.
In Ottawa, Parliament’s House of Commons heard the second reading of a bill sponsored by MP Kevin Waugh (Conservative, Saskatoon-Grasswood) that would let Canadian provinces legalize single-game betting in the country.
“As we look at this, none of that money is going back toward the public good, and much of it goes toward funding other forms of criminality,” he said.
Sports betting is legal across Canada, but only through parlay bets. That leaves the more popular single-game wagering for illegal bookies and unregulated offshore apps. Waugh said that while parlay betting generates about CAD500 million ($380.8 million), single-game betting could generate upwards of CAD14 billion ($10.66 billion).
Waugh’s bill has backing from members of the four largest parties in the House of Commons – Liberal, Conservative, Bloc Québécois, and New Democratic – and a member from each spoke in support.
Ontario lawmakers are in particular supportive because they see their casinos that border Michigan and New York threatened as sports betting is legal in those US states.
“Billions of dollars of legally regulated betting is now at risk,” said MP Brian Masse (NDP-Windsor West). “When we look at communities like Windsor or Hamilton and across the country, we have tourist destinations where people visit.”
Support, though, is not universal.
MP Adam Vaughan (Liberal-Spadina-Fort York), who serves the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development, criticized casinos for bankrupting its customers and seeking new markets to replace that business.
“The trouble is that casinos take four dollars out of the local economy for every dollar that goes into it,” he said. “Why would you want to bankrupt small business right now with a new casino offering?”
TheScore Supports, But Horse Racing Groups Seek Changes
Not surprisingly, Waugh’s bill also has the support of Score Media and Gaming Inc., a Toronto-based sports media company that runs mobile sports betting apps in Colorado, Indiana, and New Jersey.
“Canadians deserve a modernized, regulated, and competitive sports betting market, and the reintroduction of this bill is another important step in that direction,” said Score Founder and CEO John Levy.
While TheScore wants to see Waugh’s bill become law, not everyone in the Canadian gaming industry endorses the bill.
The horse racing industry in Canada has raised concerns with the bill, saying it will allow sportsbooks to offer wagering on races. That could potentially undermine an industry that relies on pari-mutuel wagering to support horse owners and thousands of horsemen.
We recognize there is an opportunity for the Canadian economy to benefit from the legalization of sports wagering,” said Jim Lawson, CEO, Woodbine Entertainment. “However, we want to ensure it does not come at the cost of the horse racing industry, which has been an important part of the economy for decades. We would be supportive of the legalization of sports betting in Canada if our concerns were addressed through a legislative process.”
Woodbine, in concert with Ontario Racing and other racing interests groups in Canada, wants Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s administration to take up single-game sports betting in its upcoming economic statement or next year’s budget. In doing so, they want the administration to ensure only tracks can offer betting on races, and they want historical horse racing legalized, which racing proponents say would help supplement any revenue lost to legal single-game betting.
Waugh first filed his bill in February during the first session of the current Parliament. In June, major professional sports leagues, including the NHL, NBA, MLB, and the Canadian Football League, signed on in support of the measure.
An effort to include the sports betting bill as part of COVID relief initiatives discussed at that time did not succeed. That prompted Waugh to resubmit the bill back in September during the current second Parliamentary session.
After Tuesday’s second reading, it’s now up to the House of Commons to delegate the bill to a committee for further discussions. After that, it would go back to the House for a third reading, debate, and a vote. If that vote succeeds, it would move to the Senate.