Single-sports betting in Canada still a long shot as Senate stymies bill

All bets are off when it comes to a future for single-sports betting in Canada. It has been nearly three years since a bill to allow the practice was passed by the House of Commons, but it has languished in the Senate since 2012 and time is running out to pass it before the election.

Senators divided over bill passed by House of Commons in 2012

Fans wanting to place bets in Canada on single hockey games or other sporting events are still out of luck years after the Commons passed a bill that would allow provinces to enable single-sport betting. The Senate has yet to pass it and chances are slim that will happen before the election. (Getty Images)

All bets are off when it comes to a future for single-sports betting in Canada.

It has been almost three years since a bill introduced by NDP MP Joe Comartin passed the House of Commons. But the bill has languished in the Senate since 2012 and the upper chamber is now simply running out of time to approve it before the federal election.

Bob Runciman, the Conservative Senator sponsoring bill C-290 in the Senate, says he would "be surprised if it happens."

In an interview with CBC News, Runciman said there has been a lot of opposition inside all parties, but the bulk of resistance comes from inside the Conservative caucus.

If we followed the line of thinking of [NDP MP] Brian Masse, we would legalize cocaine and heroin too. Organized crime is doing it, so why don't we do it too?— Conservative Senator Vern White

The proposed legislation would repeal a section of the Criminal Code that prohibits betting on a single race, fight, sporting event or athletic contest.

Provinces would then be allowed to make the change to allow gamblers to bet on one game at a time rather than multiple games.

Brian Masse, the NDP MP for Windsor, says he's upset the Senate can't get the legislation passed given it got unanimous consent from the House of Commons.

"It reinforces the obsolete nature of the Senate and its total disdain for elected people," said Masse.

Masse also said if the bill does not become law it will only benefit organized crime.

"It's a windfall for organized crime. They will get more days where revenue will come in through bars, basements, back streets and nefarious internet sites," Masse told CBC News.

'Not a priority'

The Canadian Gaming Association says Canadians spend $450 million a year on multiple or parlay bets, but more than $10 billion on single sporting events.

Senator Bob Runciman is sponsoring the bill through the Upper Chamber, but says it is unlikely to pass before the next election. (Bob Runciman)

Conservative Senator Vern White has been a vocal opponent of C-290 and says it is simply not a priority, nor is he convinced it would actually pass given the divided support.

White, a former RCMP officer and chief of police for the city of Ottawa, said the one thing Canada does not need is more gambling.

And White added that Masse's logic makes no sense. "If we followed the line of thinking of Brian Masse, we would legalize cocaine and heroin too. Organized crime is doing it, so why don't we do it too?"

White pointed to the United States — where only one state, Nevada, allows single sports betting — as a sign it is not a great idea.

Most recently though, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa has called for the bill to be passed to create new sources of revenue for provinces to spend on hospitals and education.

Runciman said the bill has yet to be referred to committee, but estimates a committee would only need a day to deal with it. 

But with a looming election and government business yet to get through the Senate, it seems the chance of Canadians being allowed to gamble one game at a time is likely not in the cards.


Rosemary Barton is CBC's Chief Political Correspondent, based in Ottawa.


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