A federal politician is betting that sports gambling could be just the ticket for the struggling casino in Windsor, Ont.
Joe Comartin, NDP MP for Windsor-Tecumseh, told CBC News he sees sports betting as a "tool" to draw Americans across the Detroit River to Windsor, so he would like to see it legalized.
Comartin is working with the Canadian Gaming Association and the Canadian Auto Workers union to change legislation to allow single-event sports betting.
Placing bets on an individual sporting event is illegal across North America, except in Las Vegas.
"[The betting] is going on at this point, illicitly," Comartin told CBC News.
"The vast majority of the money that is bet, is bet online. It's illegal. And that money is going out of the country."
The Canadian Gaming Association estimates Canadians place at least $1 billion in bets online every year, but that number could be as high as $5 billion.
"The Americans would certainly come to Windsor just for the sports betting, and then hopefully they'll bring other people with them," said Comartin.
Changes needed to Criminal Code of Canada
Introducing single-event gambling necessitates a change to the Criminal Code of Canada, specifically 207.1 (4) (b), which prohibits betting on single events.
Canadians can bet on sports using government-run Proline, however, it requires players to place three bets on at least two separate sporting events, in a version of betting known as parlay.
Comartin said his party supports his efforts, and they "appear to have full support from the Liberals," adding that the NDP has also lobbied federal cabinet ministers on the issue.
"We're frustrated, because we're getting no negatives from the Conservative government but they won't move on it," said Comartin, who tried introducing a private member's bill in 2008, but it died when a federal election was called.
"They know what they have to do — it's a one-phrase amendment to the Criminal Code," said Comartin.
Caesars Windsor losing U.S. customers
Comartin said it's worth taking a gamble on the idea if it will help protect well-paying jobs in the city with the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Caesars Windsor has said new U.S. passport regulations introduced in June have made crossing the Detroit-Windsor border more difficult for many Americans, resulting in a major drop in U.S. visitors to the casino.
In October, Caesars laid off 120 employees, citing a "softening of business," and the union is bracing for more layoffs in the near future.
'We think that might be the edge that we may need to remain competitive with the other Detroit and Ohio casinos in the future.'—Rick Laporte, president CAW Local 444
The Caesars casino and hotel complex is one of Windsor's largest employer, with about 3,600 workers. The CAW represents 2,900 of those workers, who earn between $35,000 and $50,000 a year.
"Those are the kind of jobs we're trying to protect," said Rick Laporte, president of Local 444. "It has been tough, tough going there."
Caesars Windsor is facing increasing competition from three Detroit casinos and the development of four new casinos in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo — Ohio communities all within a four-hour drive of Windsor — but none offers single-event sports betting.
"We think that might be the edge that we may need to remain competitive with the other Detroit and Ohio casinos in the future," said Laporte.
Caesars Windsor is owned by the taxpayers of Ontario, and is operated by Windsor Casino Ltd. on behalf of the provincial government's Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
Comartin said any change to the laws on sports betting won't create a large amount of jobs at Caesars Windsor, "maybe 25 to 30 new jobs at most." But he said protecting the current gaming jobs in Canada is vital.
The gaming industry employs 135,000 Canadians across casinos, race tracks, lotteries, bingo, video lottery terminals and charitable gaming.
In Ontario, 49,000 people are directly employed in the gaming business, while an estimated 30,000 more work in jobs related to the industry.