At long last, single-event sports betting is coming to Canada.
Forced to endure years of failed legislation and unfavorable odds through multi-leg parlays, Canadian sports bettors rejoiced Tuesday when the final vote was tallied. Facing a tight deadline ahead of summer recess, the Senate of Canada passed a bill on single-game sports wagering, 57-20, with five abstentions. The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act amends a section of the Criminal Code of Canada to make it lawful for a province to conduct and manage a lottery scheme that involves betting on a single sporting event. Although parlay wagering has been legal in Canada since 1985, it is only allowed on a limited basis through provincial lotteries.
The adopted bill is slated to become law once it receives Royal Assent in the coming days, said bill sponsor Sen. David Wells. Canadians wager about U.S. $14 billion on single-event sports annually, according to Parliamentary research. Once signed into law, the onus to regulate the activity will fall upon the nation’s five provincial lottery corporations — each of which already offers parlay style sports betting.
“This bill, once it becomes law, will make it possible for single-event sports betting to be regulated – and it will increase consumer protections and safeguards,” Wells said in a statement. “Revenue streams going to illegal actors will dry up and be redirected to Canadian communities in a way that is legal and taxable. This is a critical moment for Canada, as single-event sports betting will finally be brought into the light of day.”
An anxious period
For months, proponents of single-event sports betting were on pins and needles. While the bill, C-218, received unilateral support in both chambers of Parliament, the political environment in Canada has been marred by tense in-fighting between the nation’s major parties throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The friction between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Labor Party and his Conservative opposition fueled intense speculation that Trudeau could call for an early election later this year. On Tuesday, Trudeau accused members of the Conservative Party of engaging in obstructionist tactics in attempts to scuttle his minority party’s agenda.
Despite the continued strife, leaders from numerous parties largely reached consensus that the timing was right to decriminalize single-game betting. Trudeau, who assumed office in 2015, even voted in favor of the bill this spring in the House of Commons. But had the prime minister dissolved Parliament through a maneuver known as “prorouging,” efforts to legalize single-event sports betting likely would have returned to square one. As a result, sponsors of C-218 rushed to pass a bill at third reading, hours before the Senate is scheduled to depart for summer vacation on Wednesday.
Over the last week, the introduction of several amendments complicated matters. One amendment proposed by Ontario Sen. Vernon White sought to modify the criminal code by including language that would explicitly prohibit match-fixing. Another amendment introduced by Sen. Mary Jane McCallum proposed changes to the criminal code that would allow Indigenous nations to offer a lottery scheme for sports betting. Had either amendment passed, the provisions would have been kicked back to the House for approval.
With less than 48 hours left in the session, the sponsors may have run out of time if the bill had to be sent back to the House. On Monday evening, an amendment that would have prevented the bill from being read a third time failed by a 43-21 margin.
Stat of the Day: Bill #C218 was introduced on Nov 3, 2020.
231 days later on literally the 2nd last possible sitting day this bill is going to pass.
— &1 Capital (@AndOneCapital) June 22, 2021
Wells, an accomplished mountaineer, has scaled several of the world’s top peaks including Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Elbrus in Russia, Europe’s highest mountain. Wells likened the challenges of passing the historic bill to the preparation required for completing an arduous climb. In 2011, Wells reached the summit of Kilimanjaro in seven days.
As the Senate neared the finish line, Wells credited support from his colleagues and top professional leagues for completing the final push. In recent months, the bill on single-event sports betting received the backing of major professional leagues such as the NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS, and Canadian Football League, as well as the Canadian Olympic Committee.
“In high-altitude mountaineering the biggest thing is not the climb, it’s the preparation,” Wells told Sports Handle. “If you go in with a solid plan, it’s not unlike doing a climb like Kilimanjaro or Elbrus. If you do your preparation, your chances of success are good even with the closing window that we had.”
The CFL, in particular, lobbied vigorously for passage of the bill. Last month, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie described single-game sports betting as a financial lifeline for the cash-strapped league. The CFL canceled its 2020 season due to the global pandemic, but it announced last week that the 2021 regular season will begin in August.
“Amending the Criminal Code in this way will move sports wagering out of the shadows and into the light of day where it belongs,” the CFL said in a statement. “We now look forward to working with the provinces as they create strong regulatory standards and enforcement, ensuring sports wagering is offered to consumers with the proper level of controls and supervision.”
Stocks among top global sportsbook companies relatively remained unchanged. But DraftKings ended the day up 2.37%, closing at $50.16, BetMGM was up 0.5% to close at $42.30. But shares in Score Media and Gaming Inc., a Toronto-based digital media company, rose 9.03% to close at $24.28. The company’s share price surged more than 15% at one point to a session high of $26.36, its highest level in 10 weeks.
“The Senate’s passing of Bill C-218 earlier today is an historic moment for Canada,” theScore Chairman and CEO John Levy said in a statement. “The passing of this important legislation allows theScore, along with our fellow stakeholders, to collectively usher in a robust industry that will drive business, technology innovation, employment and economic growth while providing a safe and trusted environment in which Canadians can wager on sports.”
— Benzinga (@Benzinga) June 22, 2021
In March, DraftKings pegged the total addressable market for sports betting and iGaming in Canada at a range between U.S. $5-$8 billion a year. With a population north of 14.8 million, Ontario has six million more residents than Quebec, the next largest Canadian province. If Ontario were located in the U.S., it would be a top 10 market for the company, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said at the company’s annual investor day presentation.
“DraftKings has been part of the Canadian sports culture for many years and, through legalized sports betting, the company has another opportunity to further change the way fans in the country engage with their favorite teams, players and leagues,” said Griffin Finan, DraftKings’ vice president of government affairs. “While we understand there are many steps to come, we look forward to working closely with officials in each province as they continue to develop their approach to legalized sports betting.”
Over the last several months, a number of regulators and leagues have prepared for the possibility that single-event sports betting would be permitted under Canadian law, Wells said. Several provincial regulators have indicated that they intend to go live before the end of the calendar year, with others targeting Labor Day, he added. Labor Day is Sept. 6 this year, three days ahead of the first day of the NFL season.
“It only serves them to have it done as soon as possible and as safely as possible,” Wells said.