Canada’s Parliament to Consider Resubmitted Sports Betting Legislation

Canada’s Parliament will take a new look at a sports-betting legalization measure in the near future, hoping to overcome legislative gridlock that doomed a major bill’s previous road to passage.  Bill C-290, an act that would amend Canada’s Criminal Code regarding sports betting to allow single-event wagering, will be returning to Parliament for consideration in the very near future.

canada-flagOfficials for Canada’s New Democrat party have confirmed that they’ll be reintroducing the bill, which first passed Canada’s House of Commons way back in 2012, but languished without formal hearings in the House of Lords for three years, until it reached an expiration deadline last August.  As with England’s Parliament or the US’s Congress, Canada’s Parliament is also a bicameral legislature, requiring approval of both houses for any bill to pass.

One of the hurdles that again faces C-290 is that the bill was introduced as “private member” legislation, a form which some voters in the House of Lords often refuse to consider.  C-290 has also faced widespread opposition from within Canada’s Conservative Party, which controls only 99 of 338 (29%) House of Commons seats, but has a much larger say in the House of Lords, where it occupies 47 of 105 seats.  Even though the NDP was able to get C-290 passed by unanimous vote in the House of Commons back in 2012, that margin was a mirage, because the bill was blocked by House of Lords leaders anyway.

The earlier version of the bill was championed by House of Commons member Joe Comartin, but the Ontario legislator retired last year.  Who’s on tap to serve as the bill’s primary sponsor isn’t yet official, but Canadian news reports have featured another NDP member from Ontario, Brian Masse.  In a recent interview with the CBC, Masse emphasized that he and the NDP will be emphasizing a compromise approach for the reborn C-290, attempting to negotiate with all of Canada’s major political parties.

As of right now, the only form of sports betting legal in Canada is parlay betting which is operated through various provinces’ lotto offerings.  In that respect, Canada is very similar to the US and unlike most of Europe, where single-game betting is largely legal and in most cases a licensed offering by major corporations.  Canada (and the US), by comparison, are instead major countries where an underground betting economy worth billions of dollars flourishes, thus denying the country important tax revenue on the industry.

NDP officials, with Ontario’s provincial government also backing the move, remain at the forefront of the effort to get sports betting regulated throughout the country.

One thing to watch is how the major sports organizations in North America react to the legislation.  Three of the four professional sports associations who are officially battling similar legislation in the US state of New Jersey are multinational entities; the NBA, MLB, and in particular, the NHL all have franchises in Canada.  Only the US’s NFL and Canada’s CFL don’t officially cross the US-Canada border, and all the leagues, originally were as against the old C-290 bill as they were against similar measures in the US.

Except — and it’s a very important “except” — the National Basketball Association, which officially switched its stance regarding single-game sports betting legislation in Canada last year, as the old C-290 was nearing its demise.  NBA commissioner Adam Silver, at the same time he wrote a NY Times op-ed about the issue as it affected the US market, made the following comment for official attachment to Canada’s C-290 measure:

“Consistent with the NBA’s current position regarding legalized sports betting in the United States, the NBA is no longer opposed to legalized sports betting in Canada so long as there is an appropriate legislative framework that protects the integrity of the game under strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards. These would include, at a minimum, mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol for betting operators; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gaming.”

So there’s that, at least.  Opposition to single-event wagering in Canada continues to wane, even though progress has been slow.  Whether or not that means the new C-290 will get its official day in the House of Lords in the near future remains to be seen, but someday, somewhere down the road, that day is coming.

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