Wager Watch: The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act Crosses the Finish Line in Canada!

Single-event sports betting has finally arrived in Canada!  Canada’s Senate voted to pass Bill C-218 (the “Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act”), the legislation that will amend section 207(4)(b) of Canada’s federal Criminal Code to permit provincial governments to offer betting on single events including, but not limited to, single sporting events such as the Stanley Cup, the Super Bowl, and the UEFA European Championship.

Since 2011 there have been repeated efforts to amend  the Code to remove the prohibition against betting on single events. Members of Parliament from all three parties have put forward or supported almost identical bills over the past decade, only to see them die on the order paper. Today’s vote marks the successful culmination of what has been a decade-long fight for gaming stakeholders and advocacy groups in Canada.

Danielle Bush, a member of McCarthy Tétrault’s Gaming, Lottery, and eSports Group as well as a member of the Executive Committee of the Canadian Gaming Association, prepared a memo on match-fixing for the consideration of the Senate which was quoted approvingly by Senator Wells during debate on the Senate floor.

Danielle has been working with the gaming industry and particularly with Paul Burns, the CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, for almost a decade to have this important change made to the Criminal Code. The amendment allows our provincial governments to offer their residents the chance to safely and securely bet on the outcome of the Stanley Cup or the World Cup without falling prey to unscrupulous and unregulated offshore sportsbooks. This bill brings daylight to this part of the industry and will allow provinces to exercise prudent oversight over what is a very common form of entertainment that, until now, Canadians had to seek outside the country.

It will now be up to the Canadian provinces to implement single-event betting. Almost all of the provinces already offer sports-betting products to their residents through their respective lottery corporations, so in most cases, it will be a simple matter of the provinces expanding their betting offerings to include single events alongside their parlay-style offerings. As a result, we do not anticipate that Bill C-218 will require significant changes to the manner in which sportsbooks are operated (legally) in this country.

The one major exception is the Province of Ontario which is currently in the process of developing an unprecedented new ‘licence, tax and regulate’ framework for online gaming (including sports betting). Ontario is planning to have the online regulatory regime in place by no later than the end of the fourth quarter of 2021. The passage of Bill C-218 means that by 2022 private sportsbooks that have obtained a licence from the Province of Ontario will be permitted to offer Ontario residents betting services that include betting on single events.

We anticipate that the other provinces will be watching Ontario closely over the next two years to see how well this new framework functions and, perhaps more importantly, how much revenue is generated through taxation of private online gaming operators. If Ontario sees significant net revenue generation from this source, one can expect to see the Ministers of Finance of the other Canadian provinces recommending that their governments consider implementing a similar structure for online gaming.  What remains to be seen is how Bill C-218 will be implemented and/or interact with existing land-based casinos across the country who have spent much of the last year with closed doors as a result of COVID-19.

In the coming days, we will continue to provide key information for industry stakeholders to ensure they take advantage of the opportunities created by this momentous shift in Canadian gaming history.

The McCarthy Tétrault 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 or to learn more about the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, please contact the authors or see our group page.

Authors