Conservative MP says Sask. government has 'dropped the ball' on single-event sports betting
Saskatoon-Grasswood MP Kevin Waugh's private member's bill paved the way for its legalization in Canada
CBC Saskatchewan is looking at single-event sports betting in the province. This story is part of a series examining its impact.
Read part 2 here, which focuses on advocates keeping an eye on increasing 'normalization' of sports betting.
The Conservative MP who received backing from all parties for his private member's bill to legalize single-event sports betting in Canada is critical of the pace of implementation in his own province.
"There's winners and losers, and unfortunately, the province of Saskatchewan today is a loser," said Saskatoon-Grasswood MP Kevin Waugh.
Waugh's Bill C-218, also known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, was passed by the Senate and received Royal Assent in late June 2021 and came into force on Aug. 27.
The legislation amended the Criminal Code to allow provinces and territories to conduct and manage single-event betting on any sporting event except horse racing, which is still maintained by the federal government.
Before the legislation became law, the only sports betting allowed in Canada was parlay betting — wagers that require the bettor to successfully pick outcomes of multiple events.
But Waugh has argued Canadians are spending about $500 million a year on that type of betting — a "mere pittance" compared to an estimated $14 billion spent annually on unregulated black market and offshore sports wagering websites, which offer single-event betting.
He said the latter activity isn't subject to government regulations or taxes, isn't creating jobs or economic opportunities in Canada, and isn't contributing to consumer protection, education, harm reduction initiatives or support services.
Sask. 'dropped the ball': MP
Waugh said Saskatchewan government officials "haven't done anything" with the file, other than hand it to the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA).
As part of an amendment to the gaming framework agreement between the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the provincial government announced in late September 2021, SIGA was given the authority to develop an online site that, among other things, would offer single-event sports betting.
SIGA has also been granted the authority to create sportsbooks in its casinos, as well as a five-year period where it will have exclusive rights to regulated single-event sports betting in Saskatchewan beyond what is offered through Sport Select.
The website is expected to launch sometime this year. In the meantime, Waugh said you can't place regulated single-event sports wagers in Saskatchewan other than through Sport Select.
"The odds are horrible in Sport Select, I might add," Waugh said. "They are not the same as they are in Ontario or B.C. or Alberta that have single-event sports betting right now."
In November, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) announced that B.C residents had placed more than $25 million in single-event sports bets with BCLC within two months of the legalization of single-event betting in Canada.
Waugh said he is "a little disappointed" in the Saskatchewan government.
"This thing was passed last June," he said. "Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming knew this was on the agenda. They should have watched it go through the process.
"There is no question Saskatchewan has dropped the ball."
Waugh said it means lots of Saskatchewan people are still betting offshore and the government is not getting any money out of that.
"So once you get that going — and it's hard to get these offshore customers to play in Saskatchewan and Canada legally — it's going to take a long time because they've been playing for years and many of them are still playing offshore in Saskatchewan right now because we don't have it," he said.
CBC News asked SIGA, Sask Lotteries, SaskGaming, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority and the Western Canada Lottery Corporation for response to Waugh's comments.
SIGA aiming for fall launch of online site
Lionel Tootoosis, SIGA's senior vice-president of operations, said his organization has been very busy working with its partners on policies, procedures and internet gaming standards.
Tootoosis said there are a lot of entities involved in gaming in Saskatchewan and SIGA has to work with its partners.
"When you're launching something new . . . we're a highly-regulated industry, and we have to make sure we have everything in place and that we're adhering to the laws and all the different parts to operating a business online," he said.
Tootoosis said SIGA is currently in the middle of contract negotiations with a third-party provider and there should be an announcement in a few weeks.
He said it is aiming to have the new online gaming site launched sometime in the fall.
"We really feel we'll be able to launch here in 2022," he said. "We're quite confident."
He said at least two of SIGA's casinos will be undergoing renovations to offer sportsbooks, but it needs time to assess the market and figure out how much it wants to invest in the infrastructure.
Tootoosis said SIGA will also need a couple of years to determine how much it is keeping from the "grey market" and bringing onto its own platform.
When asked how much sports betting the black market and offshore gambling websites are currently drawing from Saskatchewan, he said it's really unknown.
"We do know it's sizeable," he said. "In the tens and tens of millions of dollars."
Sport Select sees upward trend in 1st-time single-event bettors
John Towns, the manager of communications and corporate affairs for the Western Canada Lottery Corporation, said single-event betting has accounted for around 20 per cent of Sport Select play in the Prairie provinces and the territories since it launched in November.
That number is also broadly trending upwards month over month, he said. However, he said single-event betting trends are dependent on popular events to wager on, and the lottery corporation expects to see "some ups and downs" throughout the year based on events and league schedules.
Towns said the lottery corporation estimates a little over half of Sport Select players have placed single-event wagers during that time. However, he said the majority of play is still done through parlay bets.
"It's the betting method they're more familiar with," he said. "And it also provides opportunities for players to win a little bit bigger than the single-event bets do."
About nine per cent of Sport Select players primarily engage in single-event bets, he said.
Towns said that since single-event betting was introduced, the amount of money bet on Sport Select is up about eight per cent.
He said about 15 per cent of the last fiscal year's Sport Select sales, or $7.1 million, was from single-event wagers.
When asked to respond to Waugh's comments about Sport Select, Towns said sports lottery is different from other types of sports betting and it's "not really an apples-to-apples comparison."
"As far as a sports lottery product goes, we have consulted with our players and with our provincial partners and we're happy with what we have in the market, but we're always looking to improve it, as well," he said.
He said Sport Select has been around for decades and has a dedicated following.
"A dedicated player base that we also don't really want to kind of upend completely by changing the foundations of the product underneath them," he said.
CBC Saskatchewan wants to hear personal stories from people in the province about their experiences with single-event sports betting. If you are willing to share your perspective in a news story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- An earlier version of this story, based on information from the Western Canada Lottery Corporation, said single-event betting offered by Sport Select has generally seen a 15 to 20 per cent increase in new players month over month in the Prairie provinces and the territories since it launched in November. In fact, WCLC says single-event betting has accounted for around 20 per cent of Sport Select play in the Prairie provinces and the territories since it launched in November.May 11, 2022 9:46 AM CT