On February 17, 2021, Bill C-218, which seeks to decriminalize single-event sports betting in Canada, easily passed second reading in the House of Commons by a vote of 303 to 15.
Bill C-218 is a private member's bill introduced by Saskatoon-Grasswood Conservative MP, Kevin Waugh. The bill was first introduced on February 25, 2020, and is described in our March 2020 Blakes Bulletin: Single-Event Sports Betting: Will Bill C-218 Parlay Its Way Through Parliament? Some Would Like to Bet on It.
Bill C-218 will now be referred to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for further study. From there it must pass a third reading in the House of Commons before being sent to the Senate for its approval.
The federal government recently introduced Bill C-13, which, like Bill C-218, also seeks to decriminalize single-event sports betting. Bill C-13 is outlined in our November 2020 Blakes Bulletin: Good Odds Single-Event Sports Betting Will Soon be Legal in Canada.
While both bills seek to amend Section 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code to remove the existing prohibition on betting on the outcome of a single sporting event, they aim to bring about the change in a slightly different fashion.
Section 207(4) of the Criminal Code defines permitted lottery schemes. Paragraph (b) of Section 207(4) specifically excludes certain activities from the definition of a permitted lottery scheme.
The provision currently reads as follows:
(b) bookmaking, pool selling or the making or recording of bets, including bets made through the agency of a pool or pari-mutuel system, on any race or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest;
Bill C-218, the private member's bill, seeks to fully repeal paragraph (b) of Section 207(4) of the Criminal Code, while Bill C-13 seeks to revise paragraph (b) to delete reference to "any race or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest" while adding "any horse-race" to the end of the provision. In terms of effect, both bills would decriminalize single-event sports betting but would have different impacts on horse racing. The government-backed Bill C-13 would maintain Canada's current pari-mutuel system of betting for horse racing, while Bill C-218 may open up horse race wagering as well.
As Bill C-218 passes its second reading, and Bill C-13 is anticipated to enter its second reading shortly, it seems the Canadian market may be looking at a dramatic (at least insofar as legislative processes go) finish to the decade-long effort to finally repeal the Criminal Code prohibition on single-event sports betting. On balance, government bills are generally more likely to become law than private member's bills, but until Bill C-13 enters its second reading it's anyone's game.
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