Sports·The Buzzer

The odds of Canada legalizing single-game sports betting look better than ever

CBC Sports' daily newsletter looks at the latest attempt to legalize single-game wagering in Canada, and why it might actually happen this time.

Bill C-218 still needs to pass the Senate, but the time could be right

Las Vegas-style sports betting could come to Canada if Bill C-218 becomes law. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Circa Resort & Casino)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.

Canada is one step closer to legalizing single-game sports betting

Yesterday, the House of Commons passed Bill C-218, also known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act. Here are answers to some questions you might be asking:

What does this bill do?

If made into law, it would remove the federal ban on single-event sports betting and let each province and territory decide whether to allow it within their borders. If they do, those jurisdictions would choose how to regulate it, who gets to operate it, and what to do with the government's cut of the profits.

What does "single-event sports betting" mean?

It's wagering on the outcome of one game/match/competition, etc.

You're not allowed to do that now?

Technically, no. Most Canadians can walk down to the corner store and bet on sports via their provincial/territorial lottery companies, and some can even do so online. But your ticket has to include at least two games, and you have to pick them all correctly in order to win (what's known as a parlay). And, because the lotteries have a monopoly on these games, the payouts they offer on these parlays are typically less than you'd get from a "real" bookmaker.

If you want to bet on just one game, you have to enter a legal grey area. You can open an account with an online sportsbook based offshore or on a First Nations reserve (the federal government basically turns a blind eye to this) or you can find a local bookie who'll take your bet (definitely illegal on his part, though it's unlikely to land the bettor in legal trouble).

Why would Canada allow parlays but not single-game wagers?

A great question with no great answer. One you sometimes hear is that it deters match-fixing because it would be much harder for, say, some gangster to arrange for two (or more) games to be thrown than one. Sure. But single-game betting is already so widespread around the world that Canada's rule (even if it's well-intentioned) isn't likely to discourage any match-fixing efforts.

OK, so the bill passed the House. That means I can legally bet on tonight's Habs-Flames game?

No. There's still a ways to go. The bill still has to make it past the Senate — no guarantee. A decade ago, a similar sports-betting bill put forth by the NDP — the current one is sponsored by Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kevin Waugh — passed the House with all-party support but died in the Senate when an election was called in 2015.

Will this one make it?

Hard to say for sure, but (obligatory gambling-term reference) the odds look better this time.

The main issue raised by opponents of liberalizing sports betting is still a valid one: problem gambling exists, it's bad for society, and making it easier for people to bet can only make it worse. But, generally, sports betting is less taboo these days. Much like cannabis before it was legalized for recreational use in 2018, public opinion seems to be moving toward the argument that, hey, people are getting it on the black market anyway, so the government should get in on the action.

Another indication that times have changed is that the big sports leagues — including Canada's favourite, the NHL — are far more accepting of gambling these days. Not coincidentally, they seemed to really start warming to it after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2018 to strike down a federal law prohibiting single-event sports betting outside of Nevada, giving each state the power to decide whether to allow it within its borders (sound familiar?). Since then, state after state has allowed private operators like DraftKings, FanDuel and William Hill (just to name some of the more famous ones) to begin taking online sports wagers and/or open brick-and-mortar betting shops in their jurisdictions (for a fee to the state, of course). These companies are in a mad dash to grab customers in a suddenly open and very competitive market, so many of them are signing sponsorship deals with the big leagues — who are happy to take their money, especially during a pandemic.

The 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision also put pressure on Canada. When your neighbour is offering a more appealing version of the same product, you risk losing customers to them. Especially in border towns with casino gambling like Niagara Falls and Windsor, Ont., calls for the federal government to open the door for single-game wagering are getting louder. And it looks like they might finally be answered. Read more about Canada's single-event sports betting bill in this story by The Canadian Press' Christopher Reynolds.

Single-game wagering provides more betting options. (Wayne Parry/AP Photo)

Quickly...

Hayley Wickenheiser is again questioning whether the Olympics should be held. The former Canadian hockey star, who's now a member of the IOC's Athletes Commission and is on the verge of getting her medical degree, was one of the first and loudest voices calling for the Tokyo Games to be postponed last March. Thirteen months later, with another wave of coronavirus infections battering parts of Canada and other places around the world, she's not sure the event should go ahead this summer either. "I've seen such suffering," Wickenheiser says of her work treating COVID-19 patients in a Calgary hospital over the past year. While she understands what cancelling the Olympics would mean to the athletes who have prepared so hard for them, Wickenheiser worries that the determination to push ahead is being driven by money. "This decision needs to be made by medical and health experts, not by corporate and big business," she says. Read more about Wickenheiser's concerns with the Tokyo Olympics in this story by CBC Sports' Devin Heroux.

There's an interesting UFC card on Saturday night. The main event is a good one: a rematch between welterweight champ Kamaru Usman and star challenger Jorge Masvidal. Usman has won 13 bouts in a row and, with Khabib Nurmagomedov (supposedly) retired, is probably the UFC's most dominant active fighter. UFC 261 will also be the company's first full-crowd event since the pandemic hit. And we do mean full: it'll be held indoors in front of a capacity crowd of 15,000 in Jacksonville. Masks are optional. UFC boss Dana White told fans it's "up to you" whether or not to wear one.

A Canadian bowler is rolling into the PBA playoffs. Francois Lavoie is coming off a big win at the Professional Bowlers Association's Super Slam event, where he beat the other four winners of the PBA Tour's five major tournaments to earn the $100,000 US top prize. The 28-year-old from Quebec City qualified for the Super Slam by winning the PBA Tournament of Champions in February. Lavoie is seeded No. 4 for the 16-bowler PBA Tour playoffs. He faces No. 13 Dick Allen in the first round on Sunday.

This weekend on CBC Sports

Olympic Games Replay: The theme of this week's show is "top Canadian moments at the Summer Olympics." They include Lennox Lewis' boxing gold in 1988, Donovan Bailey's 100m win in '96, and Penny Oleksiak's swimming stunner in 2016. Watch Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Show jumping: Watch the Dutch Masters Grand Slam event Sunday at 10:20 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

And check out...

The GIST newsletter: Founded and written by Canadian women, it'll give you a fresh perspective on what's happening in women's and men's sports. Always a fun read. Subscribe for free here.

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