The clock is ticking on single-event sports betting in Canada.
With the first puck in the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs set to drop Saturday, Canadian stakeholders are on pins and needles on whether a bill decriminalizing the activity will pass before the current Parliamentary session ends next month. While the bill, C-218, moved to second reading in the Senate of Canada last week, the proposed legislation has yet to be referred to a committee. Two days later, the Senate adjourned without any progress on the private member bill sponsored by Sen. David Wells, a Conservative from Newfoundland and Labrador.
A panel of Canadian sports betting experts tackled a litany of issues pertaining to the future of single-event sports betting Thursday at a webinar hosted by Hashtag Sports. While parlay wagering is legal in Canada in limited form, the addition of single-game wagering (i.e. Saturday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals) may generate annual gross gaming revenue in excess of $10 billion, according to estimates from Kevin Waugh, sponsor of C-218 in the House of Commons.
Proponents of full-fledged sports betting are urging the Senate to pass the measure before the chamber adjourns for summer recess on June 25.
“There’s lots of time on the calendar, but there’s no time to waste,” said Jordan Gnat, CEO of Toronto-based digital sports media company Playmaker Capital Inc.
Private Member Bills: A low success rate
Gnat was joined on Thursday’s panel by Amanda Brewer, an advisor for the Canadian Gaming Association and Steve McAllister, Editor-in-Chief of The Parleh, a Canadian sports betting newsletter. Brewer, who also serves as the VP of Corporate Communication for Gamesys Group, told the panel that while the Senate is compelled to deal with government bills, the same can not be said for private member ones. Under a parliamentary system, a private member bill is one introduced by a legislator who is not part of the executive branch.
When Brian Mulroney, the 18th Prime Minister of Canada, served for a 10-year period through 1993, just 32 private bill member bills passed through Royal Assent. Years later, during Stephen Harper’s tenure (2006-15), 63 private member bills received Royal Assent over three Parliaments. More recently, 441 government and private member bills were introduced during the 42nd Parliament, which ran through Sept. 2019.
But of the 269 private member bills introduced over the four-year period, only 11 bills passed into Royal Assent. The startling low success rate shows why bill sponsors prefer introducing legislation through a government bill, rather than a private member one. Yet, a government bill authored by Justice Minister David Lametti was withdrawn after C-218 advanced to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights by a 303-15 vote in February. Waugh’s bill subsequently sailed through the full House in April, moving on to the Senate.
— Hashtag Sports (@HashtagSports) May 13, 2021
The overwhelming margin gives gaming advocates optimism that the decades-long push to bring single-game betting to Canada finally has unilateral support among every party on the Parliamentary level.
Still, there are other complications. As Gnat explains you can’t force a private member bill to be prioritized, passage of the bills require consent. Plus, there a bevy of competing interests for a limited amount of time before the session expires. Last December, Lametti’s bill, C-13, stalled as the House of Commons spent the final days of the session on debate concerning expanded access to medical assistance in dying.
Consequently, when a private member bill hits the Senate, you need to run the table to be successful, Gnat emphasized — the slightest dissent can bring about considerable delay.
“You need a perfect score, not nine of 10,” Gnat said.
The possibility of an early election
Since the House bill received the backing of Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gnat remains encouraged. The fact that Trudeau bothered to vote in favor of it demonstrates the strength and conviction the government has in legalizing the measure, he added. But against the backdrop of COVID-19, the Canadian Parliament has been beleaguered by tense political infighting. The resulting parliamentary backlog has raised concerns that Trudeau could call an early election in attempts to regain a majority for the Liberal Party.
The political maneuver, known as “prorouging,” occurs when a party suspends the legislature for strategic purposes. By dissolving Parliament before the next federal election set for October 2023, the bill on single-event sports betting could become a casualty. Brewer calls June a “do or die,” month for passing C-218, otherwise it could be lost for another year under the aforementioned scenario.
“The reason we are working so hard to keep the pressure on the Senators is we’re concerned about Trudeau proroguing this summer,” Brewer said.
The prospect of scuttering the bill due to the maneuver will be “heartbreaking,” Brewer said Thursday, given the groundswell of support for expanded sports betting.
The senate is scheduled to reconvene on May 25. By then, stakeholders should have a better indication of the likelihood of passage for C-218, a parliamentary source told Sports Handle.