If you went to an online sportsbook to place a wager on Bryson DeChambeau, expecting the hellacious golf ball hitter to wreck havoc on Augusta National — and the field — at this weekend’s Masters tournament, you probably didn’t realize the sportsbook wasn’t a legal entity in Canada.
Many people don’t read the fine print beyond the best-before date on the almost-empty carton of milk or tub of yogurt that’s been sitting in their fridge for… fingers crossed… two weeks. There’s no chance you’ve bothered to read the terms and conditions of a sportsbook like betway.com, for example. If you did, you’d note that the company has licensed in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and Sweden.
Noticeably absent: Canada.
This could change as soon as this year, providing the House of Commons and Senate support an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada that allows for single-event sports wagering. The amendment’s approval would grant provinces the authority to license and control the country’s sports wagering industry. Legal sports wagering has previously been restricted to parlay-style games run by provincial lotteries or unregulated offshore wagering books. Canadians spend $14 billion on offshore betting websites and illegal gambling operations per year, according to the Canadian Gaming Association.
Paul Burns, president and CEO of the CGA, an advocate for an expansion of the gaming industry across the country said that “(Sports gambling) is not going away. We’ve had it for decades in this country, and we’re just trying to change the way we do it.”
Although it is perfectly legal for Canadians to wager on those offshore gaming websites today, many bettors are unaware that they are playing on unregulated sites, particularly because gaming companies promote their free-to-play games and other products during Canadian televised sporting events (Georges St-Pierre promoting BET99) and other media outlets.
But that lack of regulation can come with a price.
Burns and the CGA office are regularly contacted by bettors seeking assistance in resolving a dispute with an offshore operation. When it comes to releasing money to winners, it’s not uncommon for bettors to complain about operators with deep pockets and short fingers.
Burns said that “Internet gaming grew up as the wild west. I was at conferences in 2007 and 2008, and (the offshore businesses) were taking pride in saying they weren’t regulated and they weren’t paying taxes. People were doing their own thing and making a ton of money. The reality is that the world has caught up. Many of the leading companies have been asking the provincial governments, ‘Will you please regulate us? And we’ll pay taxes.’”
This is excellent news for Canadian sports bettors, especially those in Ontario. Burns claims that once Bill C-218 is approved in Ottawa, the province will not only be well-positioned to begin the licensing process, but will also be open for business. In the province’s new controlled betting marketplace, OLG, DraftKings, FanDuel, theScore Bet, and PointsBets are expected to have a presence. (Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star, announced in February that it intends to launch an online casino betting brand.)
Burns added that “What’s attractive in terms of the North American sports market is that Ontario is the fifth- or sixth-largest jurisdiction available. Here’s a market of 14 1/2 million people. We’re bigger than Michigan, we have more people than New Jersey, we’re bigger than Pennsylvania.”
And that will give bettors an a la carte menu of wagering options, whether it’s betting on traditional betting-friendly sports (NFL and college football, NBA, MLB), or finding a “long tail” site that offers an expanded sports odds offering that includes hockey, golf, European soccer, MLS, tennis, and cricket, as well as Canadian-based leagues like the CFL, Canadian Premier League, and others.
Burns said that “Hockey is going to be the interesting one. If you can get live in-game wagering right, you’re going to win because we have a very high knowledge base for hockey in this country. There are games almost every night of the week. With Canadian hockey fans, they will watch Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on a Tuesday night because they’re Penguins fans as much as they are a Canadiens fan or a Leafs fan. We’re bringing a whole new group of people into the gambling scene because a lot of people who bet on sports won’t consider themselves to be gamblers. They may never go to a casino, but they bet on sports every year.”
Offshore gaming operators feeling smug that their Canadian customers won’t leave because signing up with a new operator is inconvenient might be disappointed. According to a study conducted by the American Gaming Association in the spring of 2020, bettors in the United States were heading toward controlled firms, and spending with “illegal bookies” dropped 25 percent in legal betting states in 2019.
Burns also said that “Ontario is going to be a very competitive marketplace.”