Wager Watch: Parliament is “All-In” on Bill C-218
The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act
On February 17, 2021, Bill C-218 The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act was adopted after overwhelming approval by Canada’s House of Commons. Bill C-218 will now be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for further review.
Bill C-218 (the “Bill”) passed by a vote of 303 to 15 (with the Prime Minister himself smiling on camera while voting for the Bill during a virtual sitting of the House of Commons). This is positive news for industry stakeholders who have been advocating relentlessly for Canada to adopt sports betting legislation like their U.S. neighbours.
Readers should note that the previous single events sports betting bill (Bill C-13) proposed to lift the Criminal Code prohibition against single event sports wagering (as detailed in our previous analysis here). However, on February 18, 2021, the House of Commons opted to abandon Bill C-13 citing the seldom-used “Rule of Anticipation” that prevents duplicate bills from being advanced through the House of Commons. Specifically, the Honourable Anthony Rota (Speaker of the House of Commons) explained that he has “difficultly seeing how the House could move forward with C-13 after it has adopted [Bill C-218] which proposes to repeal the very section of the Criminal Code that C-13 looks to amend”.
As a result, the path to single event sports betting in Canada is now a one horse race.
Here is what you need to know:
- Bill C-218 is a private members bill sponsored by Member of Parliament (“MP”) Kevin Waugh.
- Private member bills are typically less successful at passing into law as they frequently get deprioritized in favour of government-sponsored bills. For example, in 2011 MP Joe Comartin put forward the private member bill to decriminalize single event sports betting - Bill C-290 - which did not make it to second reading.
- Bill C-218 aims to repeal Section 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code in its entirety (whereas the previous Bill C-13 sought only to amend it). This means betting on horse racing could fall within the purview of provincial regulators if the Bill is passed, much like how lotteries and land-based casino gaming in Canada is conducted and managed.
- The issue of whether the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights or Senate sends Bill C-218 back to the House of Commons to omit betting on horse-racing could become a political hot-potato as the horse racing industry has historically been regulated and managed under federal purview (via the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency).
What does this mean for industry stakeholders?
Differences aside, both bills would have the effect of decriminalizing single event sports betting in Canada, with Bill C-218’s sponsor himself noting “it doesn’t matter which bill passes”. The early success of both bills has stoked discussions about how the Canadian gaming industry is on the cusp of achieving its “PASPA moment”.
Sports betting opportunities in Canada
If industry stakeholders are looking for more information about the opportunities that exist for the sports betting industry, they should review the comprehensive study (the “Report”) published last week by our friends at Deloitte. The Report provides an interesting overview of the current state of Canadian sports betting and the unique opportunity that regulatory reform can provide for Canadian gaming stakeholders. Note that, at the time the Report was published, Bill C-13 remained in effect.
The Report places the conversation concerning legalized sports betting within the broader context of the Canadian entertainment industry by discussing the opportunities available to stakeholders that operate adjacent to gaming operators and service providers. Specifically, the Report discusses:
- Broadcasters and Media Companies – The potential for sports betting reform presents Canadian broadcasters and media companies with new potential sources of revenue and new opportunities to engage with audiences. Specifically, they could capitalize on the anticipated uptick in casino and sportsbook advertising spending.
- Governments – With the sports betting industry projected to be worth an estimated C$14 billion, the provincial governments will likely be attracted to new sources of revenue, particularly given recent financial relief efforts relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Sports/eSports Franchises and Organizations – Finally, in the wake of legalization it is inevitable that sports betting operators will look to secure partnerships with both traditional sports and eSports organizations. For instance, last month, DraftKings struck an exclusive partnership with the NFL to be the sole provider of daily fantasy sports in the country. Other examples include the New Jersey Devils’ advertising partnership with FanDuel, the NBA’s marketing agreement with Australian corporate bookmaker BetEasy, or the fact that eight out of 20 teams competing in the English Premier League featured global gaming companies as their primary kit sponsors during the 2020 season.
We will continue to monitor any developments in the coming weeks as they relate to single event sports betting opportunities, updates, or initiatives, and will keep industry stakeholders appraised of the key information they need to know.
McCarthy Tétrault’s Gaming, Lottery, and eSports Group is a national, multi-disciplinary team focused on navigating the opportunities and challenges of Canada’s gaming sector. For more information on our group, please contact the authors or see our group page here.
 See Deloitte, New Stakes in the Game: Bill C-13 and Unlocking Opportunities Through Sports Betting Reform in Canada (2021), online: (the “Deloitte Report”).