The legalization of single-game sports betting seems closer than ever and yet the Canadian Parliament will most likely not see a return to the bill that would make that a reality this year. The bill would redact a paragraph that bans wagers on results of individual sports events from the Criminal Code, expanding sports betting beyond parlays.

This is not the first bill of its kind to come to Parliament, although it is being considered with more cooperation than its predecessor, Bill C-290. Windsor West MP Brian Masse, co-sponsor to the current single-game wagering bill, was behind the initial one in 2012. Now, he and Kevin Waugh–the sports journalist turned MP– have formed a bipartisan partnership to pave the way for Bill C-218. Unfortunately, party opposition doesn’t seem to be the roadblock it once was as new delays continue to put the bill on hold.

A Matter of When

Bill C-218 had its first official reading in February just before pandemic worries began to surface. Legislative prioritization turned to an organized response to COVID-19 and the bill regarding single-game sports betting was put on the back burner once again.

Initial Opposition

In the past, the legalization of single-game wagers has been a hot button issue between parties and has often prompted responses from leagues and teams. C-290 was not well received by Conservative MPs or by professional sports leagues, although it did pass through the House of Commons in 2013 before being denied in the Senate nearly two years later.

Some organizations expressed concerns that changing the law surrounding single-game sports betting would change the relationship between fans and leagues, threatening the integrity or spirit of the game.

Turning the Tide

Changing laws in the United States may be contributing to shifting attitudes around bills like C-218 in the past couple of years. In 2018, the Supreme Court repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, a law that made sports betting illegal nationwide.

With many facing massive revenue losses due to the effects of coronavirus, state administrations are looking at introducing their own sports betting bills. New York and Michigan have both moved to legalize sports betting, sharing a border with Canada and offering gambling opportunities the Canadian government has yet to capitalize on.

Gray Legality

For Canadians who don’t want to lose out on sports betting, there are plenty of other options in the current gray area of Canada’s gambling market. Present laws are ambiguous and fail to address the advent of the internet. While prosecuting individuals who wager on off-shore sites is nearly pointless, authorities seem to have no interest or power to pursue operators that bring business to Canadian customers from abroad.

For example, Betsson AB operates out of Sweden but is available to Canadians through a site called Betsafe, where Betsafe live casino is also available. Since the government doesn’t issue licenses for sites to operate and there aren’t any applicable laws dictating how online sports betting should be handled, this off-shore style of betting is a popular form of gray market gambling.

The legalization of single-game wagering could change the judicial attitude around this significantly.

Back to Square One 

The combination of COVID-19 precautions and the recent proroguing of Parliament has not only brought Bill C-218 to a screeching halt, but it may also mean a complete reset for the bill altogether. The cooperation of MPs Kevin Waugh and Brian Masse helped to gain bipartisan support for the bill, but that support has to survive long enough for the bill to see daylight again.

Justin Trudeau’s WE charity scandal has started to give way to rumblings of potential instability for the Canadian Parliament in an already volatile political climate. Will Bill C-218 be forgotten in the meantime?

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