The Status of Bill C-218 and Single-Game Wagering in Canada

The Status of Bill C-218 and Single-Game Wagering in Canada
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After being on the Canadian Senate’s agenda since June 8th, Bill C-218 finally began the third reading on Thursday night.

With a heavy theme and focus on match fixing, a declined amendment vote, and a new amendment proposed – the six-hour sitting was frustrating for Canadian sports betting enthusiasts.

The sitting began with Senator David Wells delivering an informative and well-delivered speech, including a brief review of the Bank, Trade and Commerce’s debate of the bill.

He addressed concerns that surfaced during that review, including match fixing, the Mohawks of Kahnawake’s concerns and even specifically addressed that the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency that regulates horse racing betting would still maintain their regulatory rights.

He also identified sections in the Criminal Code that would prevent cheating of play, creating unfair advantages, fraud, bribery and conspiracy – which all would satisfy criminal requirements for a fraudulent charge in regard to match fixing, and provisions that are too specific would actually hinder potential convictions.

Many of the questions Senator Wells faced during this opening were far-reaching, with Senators asking questions that were already answered in-depth in the opening speech.

Purpose of Bill C-218

It appeared that the Senators were unaware that Bill C-218 is editing one singular line in the Criminal Code that would allow single-game betting. It is designed to account for billions of dollars that is already wagered offshore inside Canadian borders, rather than reframing Canadian gambling legislation.

Senator Vernon White, who has been attempting to poke holes in the bill, proposed an amendment that took up a large portion of the sitting, raising a number of points and concerns about match fixing and fraudulent activity.

He spoke of sports integrity, echoing points he tried to make during the Bank, Trade and Commerce reading – he spoke of his background as an RCMP officer, and mentioned a specific case of fraudulent behaviour in horse racing betting – which ironically was a part of Senator Wells’ speech and was already addressed.

He went on to state that section 209 of the Criminal Code only references games of chance with no reference to sports, insinuating the section is too vague to enforce. He then proposed his amendment which would provide more specifics on cheating in gambling.

Senator Brent Cotter, who has a slightly more extensive legal background interjected, while he was sympathetic to Senator White’s concerns, he made an amendment-crushing point.

“In order for the amendment’s specific prohibition against cheating or deception in gambling to work, it can only apply to those kinds of games where there is, as quoted by the Supreme Court of Canada, the ‘systematic resort to chance’ involved in many games, such as the throw of dice or the deal of cards.

“Indeed, in this horse racing, match fixing issue, the court had to conclude that horse racing was a game of mixed skill and chance, where the skill is the horses and the chance is in which slot the horses start in order for it to fit within the gaming regime.

“The kinds of sports we are talking about are not gaming. The Supreme Court itself has said, in fact, those kinds of activities are not games. There are not the ‘unpredictables that may occasionally defeat skill’ and there is the intractable problem: Since most sports are defined as games of skill, not games of mixed chance and skill, the gambling provisions proposed in this amendment miss the mark in relation to sports.

“It is a small example – not intended by Senator White or those who helped him draft this – of the risk of being so particular that you can miss the mark. With the greatest respect, this is not the process by which we construct criminal law.”

Bill Still Alive

Around 8:21pm ET, there was a standing vote on the amendment, with 38 opposed, 24 for, and 10 senators abstained from voting. While it was a little too close for comfort, Bill C-218 lived to fight another day.

After the vote, only 20 minutes remained in the sitting. Senator Mary Jane McCallum finished off the evening by raising concerns for the First Nations, specifically the Mohawk Tribe of Kahnawake, who currently have a monopoly on the ability to provide gambling licenses, and how this will affect their business.

Although Senator Wells identified that First Nations gambling legislation is completely outside the scope of Bill C-218 and would be in provincial jurisdiction, she pressed on. The proposed amendment would allow Kahnawake and other Indigenous communities to negotiate their own agreements directly within Canada.

McCallum closed with concerns that provincial regulators and lotteries will not work with First Nations – and made specific references to the strained relationship with BCLC and Mohawk Online before her speaking time was cut off.

The sitting adjourned, and Bill C-218 will be read again on Monday, June 21st – facing another amendment vote.

Why Bill C-218 Has Promise

Advocates and stakeholders in the sports betting industries have been trying to get single-game wagering legalized for the better part of a decade. The first attempt was Bill C-290 in 2011 and the second, Bill C-221, in 2016. While the 2016 attempt looked promising, there was one element missing: The United States.

The United States had long been trying to overturn PASPA, which would legalize sports betting in the United States and leave regulation and licensing up to each individual state.

In May 2018, PASPA was struck down, and states that legalized sports betting began seeing huge increases of revenue. After only twelve months, only a handful of states had legalized sports betting and managed to generate over $450 million in tax revenue.

COVID-19 Impact

The pandemic has put a huge amount of stress on governing bodies and the states that had legalized sports betting were raking in revenue, so that prompted many states to finally jump on the sports betting bandwagon in 2020 to make up for pandemic closure losses.

This is a huge part of why Bill C-218 has a fighting chance in Canada. It is impossible to ignore the financial growth the U.S. states are seeing and not want to achieve that in Canada.

Sports betting in Canada is worth over $14billion dollars per year, and much of that is being gambled in unregulated markets funneling revenue into other countries. Bill C-218 would allow provincial governments to regulate and license sports betting operators, keeping the revenue in Canada.

Where Bill C-218 Stood After The Second Reading

Bill C-218 has made it further than any of its predecessors, though there are still proposed amendments and doubts from members of the Senate.

The main points and concerns brought up in the second reading were focused on sport integrity and addiction, which are completely understandable concerns to have when addressing a gambling bill.

Senator Brent Cotter has identified as a critic of the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act but seems to have recently changed his mind on the matter. He addressed that sports betting is listed in the Criminal Code – which means it sits alongside fraud, drug trafficking, sexual assault and murder, yet it doesn’t seem to fit in with those extreme offences.

”No one actually gets prosecuted — says something about what we think of this — but it hasn’t changed the fact that we have preserved this as a crime in our Criminal Code,” said Cotter.

He even went on to reiterate a question the sponsor of the bill, Senator Wells, asked in an earlier reading: “How can betting on one game at a time be a crime and betting on two or three at the same time be perfectly legal?”

The point Senator Cotter attempted to drive home was that sports betting happens whether the Canadian government is involved or not, and the fact that commissioners of professional sports leagues that operate in Canada, such as the NBA, NHL, MLS, MLB and even the CFL are pleading to the governing bodies to pass this bill, assures that this change would be beneficial to sports engagement as a whole.

Horse Racing Concern

Senator Marc Gold also spoke during the second reading and used his time advocating for the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency who regulates all betting on the Canadian horse racing front.

His concern was that this bill would strip the CPMA of their regulating rights and advised an amendment to be made to allow the CPMA to maintain their regulatory rights.

Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne also spoke at the second reading of the bill as a critic, focusing on the impacts of gambling addiction. She addressed statistics of an increase of gambling activity since the pandemic began, which isn’t a surprise to those in the gambling industry, as casinos had been shuttered and many regular gamblers have moved online.

She also spoke of underage gambling and felt that this bill would make betting more accessible to teens, even though many provinces have already began planning for legal sports betting and prevention of underage use and identity verification are high on their priority lists.

Last but not least, Senator Vernon White closed off the second reading, raising concerns about match fixing and the implications that can have on sport integrity. He raised a point that it is not illegal to fix a match in Canada, and the Criminal Code will need to correct that before Bill C-218 is passed.

He also believes that sports leagues should be able to opt out of having odds offered on games, and specifically referenced amateur sports.

Considering all major professional leagues offered in Canada are on board, he was likely referencing the QMJHL, OHL and WHL. We have seen similar exclusions in the United States, where states have permitted sports betting, but excluded betting on collegiate teams within the state.

The second reading was then motioned by Senator Wells to be referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce.