Single-event sports betting bill opposed by Federal Liberals
'With the Liberals, you've just got to be prepared for them switching position,' said NDP Brian Masse
All bets seem off in Ottawa. Federal Liberals now say they will oppose a private member's bill that would legalize betting on single sporting events in Canada.
The party said it will vote against Bill C-221, known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, tabled by Brian Masse, the MP for Windsor West. Debate over the bill started Tuesday when it received second reading.
It's a sudden about face by the Liberals, who, when in opposition, voted in favour of a similar bill tabled by former Windsor-Tecumseh NDP MP Joe Comartin, about five years ago. Back then, Bill C-290 received all-party support and eventually made its way to the Senate, where it languished for three years and died after the call of last year's federal election.
"With the Liberals, you've just got to be prepared for them switching position," Masse said.
Masse said the NDP and the bill's supporters, which includes several Canadian chambers of commerce and Unifor, one of Canada's largest private sector unions, were under the impression that "we would get a free vote, at the very least."
That doesn't appear to be on the horizon for the Liberals.
"The government will be opposing the bill," Sean Casey, Liberal MP for Charlottetown and the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and attorney general, said Tuesday.
The Tories, however, said Tuesday they will allow a free vote.
Casey said Tuesday during debate that "the government shares these same concerns" of the Senate; that the proposed reform could affect the integrity of sporting events
If eventually passed, the bill would let provinces and territories allow betting on single sporting events. Currently, gamblers in Ontario, for example, must bet on a minimum of three games, otherwise known as a parlay bet. Gamblers need to correctly predict the outcome of all three games in order to win.
"It is possible, as suggested by many sports leagues, that legalizing single-event sports betting could encourage gamblers to fix games," Casey said in the House of Commons. "The current parlay system of betting makes it unattractive to fix a game, because the only way to achieve a guaranteed payout would be to rig multiple events, which would be much more difficult to accomplish. Single-event sports betting would make a fraudster's task easier, since only one event would need to be fixed."
Casey also fears single-event sports betting will lead to more gambling addiction, especially those in lower income brackets.
According to Casey, "the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reported an Ontario study that found that people with incomes of less than $20,000 per year were the least likely to gamble. However when they did, they were more likely to experience problems than those in higher income brackets."
"These statistics indicate that the cohort of Canadians in the lower income bracket who gamble are the most vulnerable for experiencing problem gambling issues," he said. "Opposing this bill means protecting our most vulnerable citizens."
Last year, the NDP claimed single-event sports betting would have "created or saved 250 jobs" at Caesars Windsor alone. Ontario Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa wanted an earlier version of the bill passed in order to create new sources of revenue for provinces to spend on hospitals and education
"While I appreciate that many would see these changes as a welcome way to stimulate the economy and to fund provincial activities, I do not believe that it should be supported," Casey said. "As such, I would ask members to join me in opposing this private member's bill."
Masse is shocked Casey took the stance he did.
"He actually spoke in favour of the bill previously, the last time it went through, under Joe Comartin, and now is speaking against the bill, which is an unusual move," Masse said. "I think that they poorly planned this out, and their arguments against the bill were based upon information that's more than three years old."