The much-anticipated sports betting bill that was introduced to the Canadian parliament last year has finally traveled beyond a first hearing. After facing reassuring responses from parliament members in early 2020, further hearings of Bill C-218, which seeks to repeal a section of the Canada Criminal Code that makes single-event sports betting illegal, were put on hold due to coronavirus lockdowns.
Resuming its second hearing in the House of Commons this February and passing in a vote of 303-15, the bill is fast on its way to finally expanding sports betting in the Canadian gaming industry.
Change of course
This is hardly the first or even the only bill of its kind. While bipartisan efforts from Windsor West MP Brian Masse and sportscaster turned MP Kevin Waugh have helped bring Bill C-218 to fruition, Masse sponsored a comparable bill in 2012 that was voted down. Opinions toward sports betting in Canada and the US have changed drastically in the last decade, however, especially as the online gambling market has become more lucrative.
According to IGCouncil, the online gambling industry is estimated to reach a total value of $127 billion by 2027, and that’s a revenue stream Canadian lawmakers don’t want to miss out on. Concerns that players will spend their money at offshore casinos and bookmakers if operators in Canada don’t rise to meet changing demands is one talking point that has appeared over and over again in the fight to legalize sports betting. Now, not one, but two separate bills have made it to the second hearing phase, but only one can ultimately be signed into law.
Sponsored by the current Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti, Bill C-13 is a notably similar bill also seeking approval in parliament. It differs from Bill C-218 in its exclusion of horse racing for provincial lotteries. Because of the approval of the more expansive bill, Bill C-13 has been abandoned for now.
Speaker of the House Honourable Anthony Rota outlined the reasoning behind the decision during the ruling in more detail, saying, “It seems to the Chair that it would not be possible for Bill C-13 to continue in the legislative process, as it would seek to amend a paragraph of the Criminal Code that would no longer exist upon adoption of Bill C-218… As a consequence, the Chair has difficulty seeing how the House could now move forward with Bill C-13 after it has adopted the larger principle of repealing the very portion of the Criminal Code that Bill C-13 seeks to amend.”
The next steps
Typically when a bill has passed its first and second hearings in the House of Commons it will see a third hearing where a committee will examine the bill more closely. Once they’re finished with their examination and have had the opportunity to hear witnesses and experts speak, they send the bill back to Parliament with a report of recommendations on amendments. There, the bill sees another vote and then heads to the Senate chamber for a similar treatment. If Bill C-218 passes the Senate, it will be signed into law by the Governor General, currently the Right Honourable Julie Payette.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from a variety of witnesses about Bill C-218 earlier this month, like Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, retired Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Chris D. Lewis, and Sue Leslie, president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario.
While Bill C-218 isn’t signed into law just yet, political support for the bill is overwhelming, and the desire to compete with offshore operators as well as competitors across the border for revenue that has disappeared during coronavirus lockdowns is a strong motivator. The signs are favorable, but delays have made tensions high. Canadian industry professionals and sportsbook enthusiasts are keeping a close eye on the progress of this bill and have been since its introduction over a year ago.
The optimism surrounding the bill has many speculating on the future of the Canadian gambling market and Canadian sports, saying that the billion-dollar market will be a real game-changer for both industries.
Several sports betting companies are poised to provide bookmaking services as soon as the bill becomes law, such as Score Media, the company responsible for theScore mobile sportsbook app, and FansUnite Entertainment, which owns FansUnite Sportsbook and BetMaker Labs. John Levy, Founder and CEO of theScore, has been very vocal throughout the life of the bill and came out during the second hearing to voice his support once again, saying “Today’s development in the House of Commons, focusing on the legalization of single-event sports betting in Canada, is a significant step forward in the process to amend an outdated law.”
He added, “As Canada’s leading mobile sports media brand with a uniquely integrated sports betting platform, we look forward to collaborating with key stakeholders as the legislative process continues, to ensure that betting reform works for all Canadians and their communities.” The gross online gaming revenue in Canada is estimated to be worth between $3.8 billion and $5.4 billion annually by theScore.