Questions of Integrity: Single-Game Sports Betting in Canada

November 12, 2015


By John Hulstein – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In 2012, Bill C-290 was passed unanimously by the Canadian House of Commons and sent to the Senate. The act sought to remove the paragraph in the Criminal Code which makes it illegal to gamble on individual sporting events. Once law, it would enable the provinces to establish Vegas-like sports gambling where individuals could bet on the outcome of single-games and point spreads.

The Senate failed to vote on the bill and simply let it die.

Much has been made of the fact that bill C-290 passed the House of Commons unanimously. However, in a move that should make us take pause and consider the effectiveness of Canada’s parliamentary system, the final vote happened late on a Friday when there were less than 25 of the potential 280 Members of Parliament present. Not one member spoke in opposition. Those present voted based on a report from the investigating committee who heard from one witness and has since been criticised for failing to carry out due diligence.

The work of due diligence fell to the Senate committee which heard from a wide array of stakeholders. The NHL, NCAA, NFL and the NBA advocated strongly against the bill which would, as they wrote, “jeopardize the integrity” of their leagues. Others opposed spoke about the social costs of increased gambling.

Despite the fact that C-290 is dead, the merits of the bill need to be understood as you can bet that we’ll see it again. At stake is the potential for billions of dollars in government revenue, hundreds of jobs and the possibility of restricting organized crime. The recently re-elected MP from Windsor West has already stated that he will try to re-introduce the bill.

The truth is that sports gambling is already available in Canada. The Canadian Gaming Association estimates that almost $10 billion is wagered illegally every year through organized crime and offshore bookies. State-regulation, they argue, is required to have greater transparency into betting patterns and to provide protection against criminal interference.

The “integrity of the game” argument is also suspect. It’s worth pointing out the potential hypocrisy of a professional league such as the NHL who, fresh off losing an anti-trust lawsuit concerning the overcharging of fans, is currently working towards placing a team in Las Vegas. Or how about the fact that the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and NCAA all lobbied in favor of paid fantasy-sports pools in the United States?

The issue of incentivizing corruption and point-shaving in sports is also worth examining. Advocates of the bill point out that state-sanctioned gambling creates a “first line of defence” against cheaters and illegal influence. Given that gambling and incentives to cheat are already in place, there is a strong argument that legal gambling institutions would bring the state-of-the-art technology necessary to catch cheaters, as has been the case in the NCAA and leagues across Europe.

Some have argued that single-game gambling represents an existential threat to Canada. Others have essentially argued that a rising tide lifts all boats and that Canada and sport would benefit from its regulation. Either way, Parliament has not treated this issue with the seriousness it deserves and it is sincerely hoped that Parliament steps up and does a better job next time round.

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