When PASPA bit the dust last May, all of the focus was naturally on how America’s states would embrace sports betting; which of them would be first to market and how a burgeoning illegal business could be brought blinking into the bright light of legitimacy. For America’s northern neighbor, however, PASPA’s strike down generated a somewhat different response. Where would a legalized US sports wagering market leave Canada’s casino industry with just parlay betting to stave off the cold?
The bold prediction made by the Toronto Sun’s Harley Redlick back in June was that Canada would follow in the footsteps of the US and legalize betting within the next two years. Such a move would be essential, he said, to help safeguard casino jobs and the economy by preventing money from leaking over the border to American gaming locations.
In a statement that bore many similarities to those issued by US stakeholders, Redlick ventured: “Even though we are the more liberal country in terms of legalizing recreational drugs, our old fashioned sports betting views are about to cost jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars — and will continue to make our underground bookmakers rich.”
Redlick was correct in citing a more liberal approach in Canada. Gambling and betting online via legal, offshore internet operations is accepted, although it accounts for just $4bn of gambling spend versus circa $10bn waged with illegal operators. As for recreational drugs, blazing up doesn’t seem to be an issue either although cannabis is, of course, strictly controlled. Canada is, well, liberal to say the least. Just not if you want to offer single sporting wagers in the controlled environs of a brick and mortar casino.
This seemingly anomalous situation is due to Canada’s criminal code. It stipulates that governments may run lotteries but cannot sanction wagers on single sporting events. For example, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation allows ProLine and sports betting, but only by wagering on multiple events or parlays. Bettors who want to make a legal wager on a Stanley Cup game in Canada must also bet on other games on the same ticket which decreases the chances of winning. Or they have to go online.
It’s an absurd scenario, and more so when viewed in light of the annual Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Predictions hailing from accountants Deloitte & Touche. In this year’s edition – the 18th – the firm forecasts the rise of TV sports broadcasting and how that will have a positive impact on betting and fan engagement.
It said: “Globally, sports gambling is a US$200bn industry. In Canada and the United States, TV sports watching and gambling is increasingly popular among 18 to 34-year-old men, although Canadians tune in slightly less than their American counterparts. In 2019, 60 per cent of Canadian and American men aged 18-34 who watch sports on TV will also bet on sports, and the more often they bet, the more often they’ll watch.”
In other words, Canada’s law makers are missing a trick. By driving ardent sports bettors out of casinos and into the online environment they are potentially losing out on taxes and, simultaneously, helping to fund illegal gaming operations. If it all sounds very PASPA-esque, it’s probably because it is!
More positively, though, the lobbying for change to Canada’s criminal code is ongoing and likely to gather momentum. Importantly, too, the code simply requires just one change to a single paragraph in order to make good on a piece of legislation that belongs in the dark ages. But the policy makers can’t hang around for too long with the likes of nearby Michigan already well advanced in its plans to introduce sports betting. That’s a little too close to home and for comfort if you happen to be a casino in Ontario that’s limited to offering parlays.