Betting on individual sporting events will become legal in Canada.
After passing through the Senate on Tuesday, all that’s left for Bill C-218 to become law is royal assent, which Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner should grant in the next few days. Wagner is temporarily fulfilling the duties of Canada’s governor general after Julie Payette resigned from the job in January.
After Wagner signs off on C-218, the federal cabinet will set a date for the new laws to take effect, after which licensed businesses can begin allowing wagers on single games, races, fights, and other types of sporting events. The provincial and territorial governments will assume the responsibility for licensing businesses, which they do for types of gambling that’s already legal. Betting on horse racing will continue through the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency.
The legalization of single-event sports betting comes thanks to the efforts of Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, who introduced the bill in the House of Commons, and Conservative Sen. David Wells, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.
C-218 also follows many similar attempts by Canadian lawmakers that go back more than a decade.
The change reverses a Canadian law that’s existed since 1892, when almost all kinds of gambling in Canada was criminalized. The country’s gambling laws have been gradually eased since then, and, by 1985, the Canadian Criminal Code only prohibited single-event sports betting.
Bill C-218’s passage also follows the wider liberalization of attitudes outside Canada to sports-betting, spurred by the ease of access to gambling platforms allowed by the internet and mobile phones, as well as a 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down a 20-year law outlawing sports betting in most states. Around 24 states have passed sports-betting reforms since the ruling.
According to a report by Deloitte, the value of legal sports wagers placed in Canada could grow from its current $500 million a year to $28 billion in five years.
The Canadian Gaming Association, a trade organization for the gambling and lottery industries, believes only three per cent of wagers placed on sporting events in Canada are made legally. It estimates another $14 billion in sports bets each year are placed illegally, including $10 billion through illegal bookies and $4 billion through offshore gambling sites.
During C-218’s passage through Parliament, both MPs and senators discussed the tax gains and economic benefits the bill could bring.
“At a basic level, expanded sports betting would provide a new, incremental source of government revenues,” Deloitte’s report says. “Beyond that, it would also generate important quantitative and qualitative economic benefits: It would contribute to the national GDP, create jobs, and deliver additional tax revenues through growth in tourism, gaming, corporate operations, research and development, and more.”
“Keeping that money in Canada (and) having (betting) done above board” were two reasons Wells pushed for the bill to pass, he told iPolitics shortly after it cleared senators’ final vote on Tuesday.
Waugh said in a statement that C-218’s passage was “a victory for Canadian sport, sports fans, and businesses.”
“For too long, black market bookmakers and offshore websites have had a monopoly on single-event betting,” Waugh said. “It’s time that Canadians take back this massive market.”
The Ontario government has already begun planning for how it would begin licensing businesses to allow single-event sports betting.
“We want to have the best standard, frankly, that we can deliver here, should (C-218) pass in the Senate,” Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said on Tuesday. “So, we are in active consultation on how best to proceed.”
With files from Iain Sherriff-Scott.
This story was updated at 4:59 p.m. to include comments Sen. David Wells and MP Kevin Waugh made after Bill C-218 was passed by the Senate.