Single Events Sports Betting in Canada

Despite its otherwise liberal and progressive sociopolitical culture, Canada has some of the most conservative gambling laws in the Western hemisphere. The decades-long ban on single event sports betting, in particular, has always been highly criticized by gamblers, politicians, and casino operators.

Although the laws are not as restrictive as those in the US, where online gambling is totally banned in most states, they carry some injurious economic consequences, both for Canada as a whole and in each of the provinces. Many argue that apart from infringing on the personal rights of bettors (many of whom are adults) to choose their fate, the laws also lead to massive capital flights, as millions of tech-savvy gamblers choose to register with offshore sportsbooks and casinos.

A report by the Canadian Gaming Association indicates that the country's gambling market had a turnover of C$31 billion in 2020, but only C$7 billion went to the government and local communities. An overwhelming majority of Canucks gamble at (mostly foreign) online sportsbooks and casinos, which denies both the government and their provinces the much-needed revenue.

Overdue Changes to the Law

To ostensibly address the legal shortcomings in current gambling laws, both the federal government and a private member of parliament have proposed far-reaching changes to the Canadian gambling industry, especially in regards to single event sports betting.

On February 21, the House of Commons passed Bill-218, formally known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, to the delight of sports fans across the country. The bill, which was drafted and sponsored by Conservative MP, Kevin Waugh, proposes a repeal of article 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code, which states that sports betting should only be conducted in parlays (a combination of multiple bets). And while the bill is not yet law - it still needs to pass in the Senate before Royal Assent - the staggering support it got in the House is a sign that the next stage will just be a formality, and this is good news to all single events sports betting fans.

The government-sponsored version of the bill, going by the name Bill C-13, also passed its first vote in the House of Commons a week after Bill C-218 and is set to be debated further in the coming weeks. Both bills are nearly identical, with the only big difference being that Bill C-13 seeks to maintain the restrictions on betting on single horse races. According to the Department of Justice, bets on horse racing are already regulated on a federal level by the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency and they didn't want to appear to be undermining the Agency by addressing their functions in fallback legislations.

What is the Future of Gambling in Canada?

The upcoming legal changes will not only be felt in Canada but all over North America as well. For one, major cities like Ontario and British Columbia will receive new leases of life, with the former expected to reap over c$1.7 billion in direct revenues by 2023 if the proposed laws take root. Further, Ontario borders some of the most populous states in the US and North America such as New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. All these states have thriving sports betting industries on their own and the liberalization of Ontario's high-potential gambling industry will add the missing block to what will be North America's (and also the world's) largest and most lucrative gambling market.

There is also the feeling that legalization and sound regulation of Canada's sports gambling industry will reduce the number of players who gamble on illegal or offshore sites. Apart from boosting domestic taxes, this development will starve criminal elements of the more than c$5 billion they make annually from off-the-books gambling.

Last but not least, the expected expansion of the Canadian betting market will be a golden opportunity for the country's array of gaming developers to share their work with their compatriots. Companies like Golden Nugget Gaming, Elys Game Technology, Caesar's Entertainment, and Bragg Gaming have long been unable to thrive in their native country due to archaic laws and the new laws are a tremendous breath of fresh air.

Bragg Gaming, in particular, has been Canada's most renowned game developer and yet has more presence in Europe, where they work with companies like Betway than in their home country. With legalization on their sights, the company has been on a roll, reporting a revenue growth of 72% in the third quarter of 2020 - massive, considering the events that market the year - and their long-awaited graduation to the Toronto Stock Exchange. The company is positioning itself to be one of the top providers of casino software in Canada in the coming years; a vision that is also shared by Golden Nugget Gaming, which recently signed a deal with Tioga Downs Race Track to provide online gaming services in New York City.