National Newswatch

OTTAWA — Lawmakers passed a bill to legalize single-event sports betting Thursday, sending the legislation to the Senate.

The would-be law aims to amend Criminal Code provisions around gambling on single games of football, hockey and other sports, which is currently illegal except for horse racing.

The private member's bill from Conservative MP Kevin Waugh comes after similar NDP legislation zipped through the House with all-party support nearly a decade ago but foundered in the Senate and died when an election was called in 2015.

A second attempt by New Democrat MP Brian Masse also failed after the then-Liberal majority voted down his private member’s bill in concert with Conservatives in 2016.

Third time may be the charm, after the Liberals rolled the dice last November on their own legislation, which they subsequently dropped when Waugh agreed to incorporate its protections for the horse-racing industry into his bill.

The legislation, known as Bill C-218, has garnered tentative support from a tight-knit horse-racing industry that remains wary of casinos and foreign gambling sites encroaching on its turf.

Las Vegas-style betting on single games would also eat into the multibillion-dollar black market by legally opening the books to gamblers eager to lay down money on individual games rather than wagering on fixed odds around two or more games.

The prohibition's initial aim was to curtail match-fixing — it's easier to scheme when there's just one game to manipulate — but it became increasingly ineffective amid the rise of offshore betting sites.

The legislation passed third reading with all-party support Thursday evening.

Waugh thanked his fellow MPs for their co-operation on the bill and expressed hope it would not languish in the Senate.

"The justice committee’s study on this bill highlighted the fact that legalizing single-event sports betting will create great economic opportunities for Canadian workers, businesses, and employees. It will also ensure that provincial governments have access to the tools necessary to properly regulate sports betting and implement consumer protection and problem gambling programs to protect Canadians," he said in a statement.

Justice Minister David Lametti said the Liberals "fully support these changes, and are eager to see them move forward."

"The changes put forward would help take illegal betting profits from single-sporting events out of the hands of organized crime, and give provinces and territories the ability to regulate and redirect the funds back into our communities," he said in an emailed statement.

More than two dozen U.S. states have moved to legalize single-event betting after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban in 2018.

Waugh says the main goal of Bill C-218 is to level the track globally against large foreign sites such as Bet365 and Bodog that garner more than $4 billion from Canadian bettors each year, according to the Canadian Gaming Association.

Casinos might also benefit, but if the bill passes it will be up to the provinces to decide how to regulate single-event bets.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
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