Under the Criminal Code
(Canada), provincial governments are the only entities that are
allowed to operate gaming sites and conduct and manage lottery
schemes in Canada, subject to certain limited exceptions such as
pari-mutuel racetrack wagering. The Ontario government, for
example, has established The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation
pursuant to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Act,
1999 as the provincial entity that is empowered to conduct and
manage gaming sites and lottery schemes in Ontario on behalf of the
province. Other provincial governments have established similar
entities to conduct such activities on their behalf, such as the
British Columbia Lottery Corporation.
The Criminal Code, however,
currently prohibits the conduct or management of lottery schemes
that involve betting on single sporting events, whether by a
provincial government or otherwise. Sports betting in Canada can
only be conducted via parlay betting (i.e., betting on multiple
outcomes on a single ticket). However, a bill is currently being
debated in the Senate that would change this regime. If passed,
Bill C-290 (the Bill) would repeal paragraph 207(4)(b) of the
Criminal Code and make it lawful for the government of a
province, or a person or entity licensed by a province, to conduct
and manage a lottery scheme that involves betting on a single sport
event or athletic contest.
The Bill was introduced in the federal
House of Commons as a private members' bill on September 28,
2011. It passed second reading on November 1, 2011 and was referred
to the House Justice Committee, which held its hearing on February
16, 2012. On March 2, 2012, a third reading debate was held and the
Bill received unanimous consent with support from all political
parties in the House of Commons. The Bill was then referred to the
Senate, where it has now reached its third and final reading. As an
unelected, appointed body, the Senate generally approves bills that
have received the approval of the elected House of Commons as a
matter of course. However, the Bill has received a significant
amount of scrutiny and opposition during its third reading in the
Senate. Although the Bill received unanimous support in the House
of Commons, it has been suggested that there was relatively little
scrutiny or debate of the Bill at that time.
Critics of the Bill have expressed
concern that allowing gamblers to wager on single sporting events
would encourage match fixing in professional sports. The National
Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball
Association, the National Football League and the U.S. National
Collegiate Athletic Association have all opposed the Bill for this
reason in submissions to the Senate Committee on Legal and
Proponents of the Bill, on the other
hand, have touted the potential economic benefits and increase to
government revenues that would result from legalizing betting on
single sporting events. A number of provincial governments support
the Bill for this reason. The Canadian Gaming Association estimates
that several billion dollars are wagered every year on single
sporting events in Canada, either through illegal bookmaking
operations or offshore online sports betting sites. It is
anticipated that casinos in Windsor and Niagara would see increased
traffic from the U.S. if the Bill is passed into law, as very few
states in the U.S. allow betting on single sporting events. Any new
casino and entertainment complex that is established in the Greater
Toronto Area (or elsewhere in Ontario) would also have the ability
to conduct and manage lottery schemes involving betting on single
sporting events if the Bill is passed by the Senate.
Senator George Baker has stated
publicly that he expects the "vast majority" of the
Liberal caucus and about half of the Conservatives to vote against
the Bill in the Senate. If this is correct, there is a real
possibility that the Bill will be rejected. This would represent a
historic milestone in Canada as the Senate has never before
rejected legislation that was unanimously passed by members of the
House of Commons. The Bill's sponsor in the Senate, Bob
Runciman, has indicated recently that he expects that the Bill may
never come to a vote and simply die on the order paper when the
Senate breaks for the summer.
The Bill has been debated five times in
the Senate so far during its third reading, most recently on March
7, 2013. It remains to be seen when debate on the Bill will
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