By Mitchell Smith – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD
A law that would embrace Vegas-style sports gambling in Canada is still stalled in the Senate. Bill C-290 was proposed in 2012 by New Democrat MP, Joe Comartin and was passed quickly through the House of Commons without any opposition. Since then however, the Senate has avoided putting it to a vote, citing the lack of debate and upset senators displeased with the bill’s premise.
The following will examine this new law’s potential affect on the sports industry and society. It will not discuss the political aspects at issue with an unelected body attempting to block a law that has been supported by all parties.
Bill C-290’s purpose would be to give each province in Canada the power to allow single-game betting. While betting on a single sporting event or athletic contest is currently outlawed by sections 206 and 207 of the Criminal Code of Canada, provinces are allowed to offer parlay-style wagers on multiple games. A “parlay” is a bet that links two or more wagers together and is dependent on all of those wagers winning. The result is that the payoffs are usually higher than single-game betting but the odds of winning are also likely slimmer.
Why is single-game betting an issue?
Some of the major stakeholders that this bill affects are the professional sports leagues in Canada– including the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) – and society as a whole. Both of the professional sports leagues oppose Bill C-290, citing concerns over how it may affect the integrity of the sport.
The NHL is quoted as saying, “Such wagering poses perhaps the greatest threat to the integrity of our games, since it is far easier to engage in ‘match fixing’ in order to win single-game bets than it is in cases of parlay betting [as currently exists in Canada], where bets are determined on the basis of multiple game outcomes.”
Additionally, the CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays, Paul Beeston, stated that, “When gambling is permitted on team sports, winning the bet may become more important than winning the game; the point spread or the number of runs scored may overshadow the game’s outcome and the intricacies of play.” Beeston goes on to explain that he wants the fans to support and cheer for the home team and athletes, instead of the fans cheering for their bets to win.
In contrast to these opinions, Senator Frank Mahovlich, a former Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player argues that match fixing is not a concern because hockey players are insulated from being bought off by gamblers because of the large amount of money being earned.
The proponents of the bill believe that society stands to gain from job creation, increased government revenues, and tourism. They point to the fact only a handful of U.S. states allow single-game bets and therefore will attract more American visitors to our casinos. It is also stated that Canadians are already wagering their money on single-game bets through online casinos or through organized crime. All of society stands to benefit if the monies generated by gambling stay ‘in-house’ in provincial treasuries.
The question that politicians are trying to resolve is simple: are the detrimental affects of opening up sports gambling outweighed by society’s benefit?
In my opinion, Maholovich’s argument misses the point and is perhaps a little naïve. There are players in all sports who, regardless of the amount of money they are being paid, could still be manipulated and thus affect the integrity of the sport. As a sports fan, I agree more with Paul Beeston. I want to cheer for my favorite team because of the emotional attachment and for the spirit of the sport –not because of the reward I get from them winning or losing. Ultimately however, those who want to wager on single-game bets will easily find a way to do so online. Knowing this, it only makes sense to allow the bill to pass and let the provinces decide the best way to implement. The revenues generated are better served supporting Canadian society rather than in the hands of online casinos or organized crime.