PEI

Atlantic Lotto ready to score should Ottawa allow single-event sports betting

The Atlantic Lottery Corporation says it could be ready to cash in within weeks if the Trudeau government goes ahead with an expected change to the Criminal Code to allow single-event sports betting in Canada.

First bets could be laid as soon as April on ALC’s website, CEO says

The federal government is expected to introduce changes to the Criminal Code which would end a decades-old prohibition against betting on single sporting events. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Atlantic Lottery Corporation says it could be ready to cash in within weeks if the federal government goes ahead with an expected change to the Criminal Code to allow single-event sports betting in Canada.

ALC's CEO Chris Keevill said it would require only a "small change" to the corporation's website to allow users to place a bet on a single hockey game, soccer match or other event.

Right now that's not allowed in Canada. But a bill is making its way through parliament to amend the Criminal Code to end a decades-old prohibition on gambling that experts say has funnelled billions of dollars into the black market.

Currently, sports bettors in Canada are limited to "parlay" bets — meaning they have to place bets on more than one game, and pick the winning team in each contest, to see any sort of windfall.

The odds of a winning parlay bet are low, yet Canadians spend roughly $500 million a year on parlay bets through lottery games like Pro-Line.

Keevill said if and when the change is finalized in Ottawa, the biggest delay for ALC would come from working with the regulatory agencies in each Atlantic province to "make sure that the service would be safe for play."

ALC already allows parlay betting on its website. "Technically speaking, the platform is ready to accept it and we can throw the switch at any time once all those approvals are in place," said Keevill. 

"So realistically we're talking about several weeks to a few months at the earliest," he said, suggesting the first bets could be placed by April or May. 

"Maybe we'll be in hockey play-offs in the normal season next year, that would be nice."

Hard to say how much ALC would take in

Keevill said it would be "hard to predict" how much revenue ALC could take in as a result of the change. 

"It'll be positive but not significant," he said, noting that the change would allow the corporation to operate on a level playing field with offshore sites which already allow this type of betting.

The Atlantic Lottery Corporation said its revenues suffered in the first fiscal quarter, from April to June 2020, but rebounded strongly over the following six months. (Red Shores Racetrack & Casino/Facebook)

ALC reported $13.2M in net revenues from sports betting in its 2019-2020 annual report. That figure came in almost $2 million below budget, with the corporation citing the suspension of sports leagues due to the COVID-19 pandemic that kicked in just as the fiscal year was ending.

Billions at stake illegally 

It's estimated that $14 billion a year is wagered by Canadians in sports betting using illegal channels beyond the regulatory control of the federal and provincial governments. That includes $10 billion through the black market via bookies and $4 billion more through offshore online outlets, according to figures from the Canadian Gaming Association.

The change in the Criminal Code of Canada would come at a time when gambling revenues are suffering, as traffic to casinos and racetracks has been reduced by the pandemic.

Keevill said ALC's financial performance "was effectively to break even" during its first fiscal quarter of the year, from April to June 2020. But he said revenues "recovered strongly" in the second and third quarters.

In its 2020-21 operating budget, tabled in June, the P.E.I. government projected it would receive just $700,000 in net lottery revenues for the year through ALC, down from $14.7M the previous year.

More from CBC P.E.I.

 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said the federal justice minister was expected to table legislation soon to allow single-event sports betting. In fact, that bill was tabled in late November.
    Dec 11, 2020 10:47 AM AT

With files from John Paul Tasker

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now