Canadian provinces will soon be tasked with the regulation of single-event sports betting. On June 29, 2021, Bill C-218, entitled An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting) (“Bill C-218”), received royal assent. Once the amendments come into force, provincial governments and licensed persons will have the option of lawfully offering bets on races, fights, single sport events, and athletic contests. The amendments have the potential to generate additional revenue for provinces and increase protections for consumers.
Given these substantial benefits, it is unsurprising that some provinces are already working towards developing a strategy for the provision of single-event bets to consumers. The role to be played by private industry is still being clarified in most provinces. However, Ontario’s gambling regulator has indicated that it plans on making single-event sports betting a key part of its internet gaming market initiative whereby private operators will be allowed to offer online gaming to Ontarians.
Having received royal assent, Bill C-218 will come into force upon the issuing of an order-in-council. The Bill legalizes betting on races, fights, single sport events, and athletic contests through an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada. However, bets related to horse-racing remain prohibited, unless conducted in accordance with the pre-existing rules for pari-mutuel betting.
In Canada, the legal framework around gaming and betting is established by both federal and provincial law. Federally, the Criminal Code prohibits some types of gambling entirely, and requires other types of gambling to be conducted either under provincial licence or directly by the provinces. Currently, some kinds of “lottery schemes” can be held under provincial licence. However, prior to Bill C-218, single-event sports betting remained prohibited by virtue of being excluded from the definition of a lottery scheme that could be licenced or conducted by the provinces. Provincial governments and licensed persons were nonetheless authorized to offer parlays, i.e. bets simultaneously made on multiple sporting events.
In essence, Bill C-218 will modify the definition of a “lottery scheme” under the Criminal Code in order to bring single-event sports betting within the scope of gambling activities which can be lawfully conducted by the provinces or under provincial licence.
The lawful provision of single-event sports betting to the public is expected to positively impact a variety of actors. These potential benefits were at the core of the wide political and social support that eventually lead to the Bill’s success.
For one, the amendments will allow provincial governments to capture some of the profits that are currently made by illegal providers of single-event sports betting. Minister Kevin Waugh, who introduced Bill C-218, identified unlawful single-event sports betting as “a $14 billion industry here in Canada”. This illegal market mainly consists of offshore betting and unlawful bookmaking. By way of example, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (“BCLC”), the Crown corporation responsible for the province’s gaming industry, estimates that it has lost $250 million CAD to illegal gaming websites within the last five years due to Canada’s restriction of lawful sports betting to parlays. Bill C-218 will allow for the creation of a legal market for single-event sports betting and part of the revenue generated by unlawful gaming operations will be channelled towards provincial governments.
In addition, Bill C-218 has the potential of increasing provincial revenue by providing consumers with a Canadian alternative to the burgeoning sports betting market in the United States. Until 2018, sports betting was largely prohibited in the United States by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act . In Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the United States Supreme Court struck down the provisions that prohibited states from authorizing sports betting as unconstitutional. This made legalization of sports betting an open issue for each state to decide. Since then, twenty-two states have legalized sports betting. Some of these states, notably New York, Washington, and Michigan, are on the Canadian border. In this regard, the BCLC notes that customers commonly cross the boarder in order to place single-event bets at nearby casinos in Washington. The development of a legal Canadian market would dissuade consumers from resorting to operators in the United States for the purpose of placing single-event sports bets.
Aside from these economic benefits, the legalization and regulation of single-event sports betting is also expected to improve the wellbeing of players. In illegal markets, no rules are put in place to ensure that consumers are properly protected. For instance, minors are commonly allowed to participate in illegal betting activities. Entrusting provinces with the regulation of single-event sports betting will enable them to put in place protections designed to ensure that such activities are conducted in a healthy manner. For example, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (“ALC”) is responsible for gaming products in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Its PlayWise initiative provides players with diverse tools and tips aimed at achieving responsible gaming. As part of this initiative, ALC funds non-profit or charitable organizations devoted to encouraging healthy gambling. Specifically with respect to youth, ALC provides a list of signs that parents should pay attention to, tips for those concerned that a minor may be involved in gambling activities, and a list of available support resources.
In response to Bill C-218, several provinces began developing strategies in order to capitalize on the potential benefits identified above.
In Ontario, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission (“AGCO”) regulates all aspects of gaming. As a strong supporter of Bill C-218, AGCO plans on making single-event sports betting a key part of the internet gaming market initiative that the province is launching by the end of 2021.
This initiative, managed by a subsidiary of AGCO called iGaming Ontario, will allow private operators to offer online gaming in the province. Interested operators will have the option of entering into commercial licensing agreements with iGaming Ontario provided they that meet the “rigorous standards of game and operator integrity, fairness, player protections and social responsibility.” As a first step, private operators interested in participating in this regulated market will have to file registration applications which will become available in the coming months. The first commercial agreements will be executed this fall which will allow some private operators to begin offering online gaming in December.
Given the timeline for the launching of Ontario’s regulated online gaming market, it is to be expected that private operators that have entered into an agreement with iGaming Ontario will be allowed to offer single-event sports betting in the province shortly after the coming into force of Bill C-218.
For its part, the BCLC is preparing to offer single-event sports betting on its website as soon as Bill C-218 comes into force. At a later date, such betting will also become available at the sixteen casinos and the seventeen community gaming centers that the BCLC operates.
Turning to the Atlantic provinces, Chris Keevill, the CEO of ALC, indicated that the platform which would make single-event sports betting available on ALC’s website is ready and will be launched as soon as all required approvals are obtained.
Finally, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (“AGLC”) will begin offering single-event sports betting on its PlayAlberta.ca website immediately following the coming into force of Bill C-218.
In sum, Bill C-218 will soon legalize single-event sports betting in Canada, subject to provincial control of some sort. According to a wide variety of political and social actors, the modernization of Canada’s legal framework in relation to sports betting will result in both financial benefits to provincial governments and better protection for consumers. Most likely, single-event sports betting will promptly become available on provincial gambling websites. In Ontario, it is to be expected that licensed private operators will also be allowed to offer such betting online. With time, it will become clearer whether the other provinces plan on issuing licences to persons wishing to enter the legal Canadian market for single-event sports betting.
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 Bill C-218, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting), 2nd Sess, 43rd Parl, 2021 (assented to 29 June 2021).
 Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46.
 “Bill C-218, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting)”, 3rd reading, House of Commons Debates, 43-2, No 86 (22 April 2021) at 18:05 (Kevin Waugh).
 584 US _ (2018).