Federal or provincial… Canada stuck at regulatory crossroads

Canada’s continued resistance towards legalising a ‘single sports betting’ framework has perplexed industry observers, as a subject matter that has all political party support, professional sports’ blessings and a ready-made audience. 

One-by-one as US states regulate sports wagering, the Great White North continues its slumber on adopting some form of a modern sport betting framework, replacing its antiquated parlay systems.

A deep dive on Canadian developments towards legalising ‘single sports betting’ closed day-one of the SBC North America Digital Summit.

“Why is this taking so long?” audiences asked the panel,  who were given no customary graces of settling-in questions.  

Paul Burns, CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), who now leads Canada’s third legislative attempt to introduce a sports wagering bill noted stakeholder frustrations.

He replied: “It’s been a process of 11 years…Bill CG90 passed the House of Commons, but the Senate did not want to deal with it and let it die on the order paper, knowing that Canada would go to the polls for a General Election. We then returned with a new government who did not want it.”

Following Canada’s 2020 General Election, Burns stated that the CGA has ‘started all over again’. However, this time the CGA counts with the combined support of US and Canadian sports leagues.

“Pro sports have made a vital outreach,” he added. “Last month the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS Soccer and Canadian Football Leagues released statements saying that they wanted to see regulated sports betting in Canada.”

Maintaining dialogue with Canadian political parties, Burns said that the CGA’s latest bill has gained a ‘very good audience’, but warned against raising any short-term expectations as  a COVID-19 disrupted Commons ‘holds few sitting days to review the bill over the summer, before returning in the fall’.

Hosting the panel, Amanda Brewer – Principal at ABCo – questioned whether Canada’s wagering progress is conflicted as Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, seeks to ‘do a New Jersey, going at it alone with an online gambling regime’?

Observing developments, Burns said that it is therefore critical that Ontario’s actions are followed with some form or other of legalised online sports betting as the province cannot be served by a ‘diluted programme that will not support an open market”.

Brewer interjected on whether Ontario’s stand-alone pursuit of an igaming regime will further ‘blur the lines’ for Canadians on what are legal and illegal engagements with regards to gambling with private enterprises.

Legal expert Don Bourgeois, Principal of the Gaming & Regulation Group, advised stakeholders to review Canada’s federal governance make-up, which will lead to certain elements of online gambling “becoming legal, illegal and more importantly what is just confusing”.

He continued: “Canada’s overall gambling prohibition is held by the Federal Criminal Code. That legislation applies across Canadian provinces and territories. However, the prohibition is generally against commercial activities related to gambling.

“Ironically private bets are therefore not illegal… the illegal element relates to  commercial activities attached to the process of a wager, what is illegal is being the house essentially.”

Bourgeois believes that online gambling services can therefore claim exemption against federal laws on business conduct and management clauses which are governed by individual provincial laws.

Whilst Canada observes US states regulating online gambling frameworks, Bourgeois stressed that Canadian federal and commercial laws do not match those in the US.

He asked: “Is there room for a private sector model? Yes, but it won’t be the same as in the United States.

“The provinces are allowed to carry out individual conduct and management of commercial activities, in line with their legislations. It’s whether they are broad enough to carry forward legislation for online gambling businesses.”

Acknowledging,  Bourgeois comments on federal and provincial clashes, Burns states that having finally secured pro-leagues consensus for a regulated marketplace – “Canada will not want to be last to the table on North American wagering’.

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SBC Digital Summit North America is running this week July 14-16. To register or obtain more information visit the event’s official website.

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