Canada moved one step closer to legalized single-game sports betting this past week when its House of Commons overwhelmingly passed a private measure bill, 303-15.

Canadian Sports Betting
Betting on single games like this NHL grudge match between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens could finally be legal for Canadians. Two bills permitting legal sports wagering on single games are winding their way through Canada’s government. (Image: Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The bill, authored by Conservative MP Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon-Grasswood), would open the windows for legalized single-event sports wagering throughout Canada. Much as the May 2018 repeal of PASPA did in the US, with individual states approving sports betting, Waugh’s bill leaves regulation to the provincial and territorial governments.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supports the bill, which now heads to the Justice Committee. From there, it heads to the Canadian Senate, then to the Governor-General of Canada for Royal Assent. That makes the bill law.

The best-case scenario for this is for single-game wagering to become legal in the fall when the NFL season begins. However, Canadian parliamentary procedure involves twists and turns unfamiliar to Americans. Those involve three readings of bills before they become Canadian law.

Canada Takes Double-Barreled Parliamentary Approach

Currently, there are two competing bills winding their way through the House of Commons: Waugh’s C-218 and a government bill, C-13. Canadian Justice Minister David Lametti introduced C-13. Both amend the Canadian Criminal Code to permit single-game betting. Waugh’s private-member bill is out in front of the government bill in terms of progress through the House of Commons.

Once a bill reaches committee, it undergoes a line-by-line review. Witnesses and experts provide opinions and analysis on causes and effects. This is also when a bill faces its hardest scrutiny.

Presently, Canadians can legally wager on sports. However, they can only bet parlays, not single games. This explains why Canadians put down only $500 million in legal provincial wagers, according to the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA).

Organized Crime Currently Holds Biggest Market Share

Meanwhile, Canadians are betting approximately $10 billion illegally, usually through organized crime-controlled bookmakers. Canadians wager another $4 billion annually with offshore books.

“Amending the Criminal Code to legalize single-event sports wagering will provide provinces with the necessary tools to deliver a safe and legal option to Canadians while enabling economic benefits to flow to licensed gaming operators, communities and provincial governments,” said CGA CEO Paul Burns in a statement. “I can’t emphasize enough how this small change to the Criminal Code would help communities recover from the economic devastation of the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown.”

Last June, the commissioners of the MLB, NBA, NHL, the Canadian Football League. and Major League Soccer wrote Trudeau a letter asking him to support legalized gambling. That removes a significant hurdle previous single-game wagering bills faced.

Canadian Sports Betting Has Horse Racing as Model

The Canadian horse racing industry also supports C-218, albeit with a focus on ensuring participation in the process. Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson pointed out that his industry has successfully run a legal single-event wagering operation for many years. And it runs that operation under strict government regulation.

“Sports betting in Canada is a significant opportunity for the Canadian economy and equally exciting for sports bettors,” Lawson said this week. “We remain highly focused on ensuring the horse racing industry not only is protected, but has an opportunity to participate in it in a meaningful way.”

That’s not to mean single-game wagering is a parliamentary slam-dunk. Liberal MP Adam Vaughan (Spadina-Fort York) argued Waugh’s bill would not “expand the economy.” He also maintains that casinos take four dollars out of local communities for every dollar they put back in.

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