New Canada Sports Betting Bill Gets Second Reading, But Also Opposition

The battle lines are firming up in the latest legislative tussle over the possible legalization of single-event sports betting in Canada.  A new legalization measure was introduced back in January by New Democratic Party member Brian Masse, who vowed to use his winning of a fortunate “lottery” draw — an odd quirk of Canada’s Parliament — to reintroduce such legislation.

canada-flagThe introdution of Masse’s new C-221 bill in early January followed the time-mandated demise of Canada’s previous legislative effort regarding legal sports wager.  Last year, the C-290 measure championed by Joe Comartin expired after languishing in Canada’s Senate for several years without a vote.  Comartin himself retired from Parliament last year, leaving it to other politicians to support the popular cause.

Masse, like Comartin an NDP member of Canada’s House of Commons, hails from Ontario, where support for such legalization is strong.  Masse’s new C-221 received its second of three forma Parliamentary readings this week, before heading off to debates, hearings, and a possible vote.

But just as Masse and several officials from organizations in Canada gathered in Ottawa to formulate strategies for moving the bill, leaders of Canada’s ruling Liberal party issued a statement in opposition to C-221… and to legalized sports betting in general.  It’s a bit of a switcheroo for the Liberal Party, which had previously backed Comartin’s old C-290 measure, and the reasons for the Liberals’ about-face seem… a bit dicey.

“The government will be opposing the bill,” said Sean Casey, a prominent Liberal Party figure, on Tuesday.

Added Casey, speaking before the House of Commons in conjunction with C-221’s second reading, “It is possible, as suggested by many sports leagues, that legalizing single-event sports betting could encourage gamblers to fix games.  The current parlay system of betting makes it unattractive to fix a game, because the only way to achieve a guaranteed payout would be to rig multiple events, which would be much more difficult to accomplish. Single-event sports betting would make a fraudster’s task easier, since only one event would need to be fixed.”

Exactly how legalizing single-event sports betting would lead to an increase in match-fixing activity is a question that has has industry pundits scratching their heads all week.  Canada’s under-the-table sports-betting market is worth several billion dollars annually, and the country is generally regarded as the second-largest of all unregulated Western sports-betting markets, after the country’s southern neighbor the US.

The Liberal Party’s switch came as a surprise to C-221 sponsor Masse, who nonetheless took the news in stride.  “With the Liberals, you’ve just got to be prepared for them switching position,” said Masse.”  Masses did express surprise at Casey’s personal flip, noting that Casey had personally spoken in favor of the old C-290 bill, with virtually identical language.

The loss of Liberal Party support might spell and early demise for C-221.  Comartin’s prior bill sailed through the House of Commons before dying within Canada’s stultified Senate, where so-termed “private” members’ bills, as with both Comartin’s and Masse’s legalization measures, are often disregarded on principle, never being called to a vote.  Now, that potential roadblock isn’t even in the near future for C-221, where a House of Commons battle now looms.

Legalization backers also site the thousands of jobs they expect would be created by single-event sports wagering.  Much of the support for both bills has come from Ontario, home of Toronto, where several casinos also service the nearby Detroit (US) market.  Caesars Windsor, just across the border from Detroit, had projected as many as 250 new jobs should single-event wagering be legalized.

The prospects for that have dimmed, at least in the short term.  Major North American sports organizations such as the National Hockey League (with six franchises in Canada) and the NFL have lined up against all legalization bills in the country to date, spending considerable legal capital in their efforts to keep a lid on legalized sports wagering throughout North America.

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