After overwhelming approval by Canada’s House of Commons, Bill C-218, the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, was adopted on February 17, 2021. For further review, Bill C-218 will now be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

By a vote of 303 to 15, Bill C-218 (the ‘Bill’) passed (with the Prime Minister himself smiling on camera while voting for the Bill during a virtual sitting of the House of Commons). This is good news for industry stakeholders who have been relentlessly advocating for Canada to adopt legislation on sports betting, such as its U.S. neighbors.

Readers should remember that the previous single-event sports betting bill (Bill C-13) proposed to lift the restriction on single-event sports wagering from the Criminal Code (as detailed in our previous analysis here). “On February 18, 2021, however, the House of Commons decided to abandon Bill C-13, citing the rarely used “Rule of Anticipation,” which prevents the House of Commons from advancing duplicate bills. Specifically, the Honourable Anthony Rota (Speaker of the House of Commons) explained that he had “difficulty seeing how the House might step forward with C-13 after adopting [Bill C-218] which proposes to repeal the very section of the Criminal Code that C-13 looks to amend.

As a result, a one-horse race is now the path to single-event sports betting in Canada.

Here is what you need to know:

  • Bill C-218 is a private members bill sponsored by Member of Parliament (“MP”) Kevin Waugh.
  • Typically, private member bills are less efficient at passing into law as they are mostly deprioritized in favor of government-sponsored bills. For example, in 2011, MP Joe Comartin put forward the private member bill to decriminalize single-event sports betting – Bill C-290 – which did not make it to second reading.
  • Bill C-218 is intended to repeal the entirety of Section 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code (whereas the previous Bill C-13 sought only to amend it). This means that if the Bill is passed, betting on horse racing could fall within the purview of provincial regulators, just like how lotteries and land-based casino gaming are conducted and managed in Canada.
  • The issue of whether the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights or Senate send Bill C-218 back to the House of Commons to omit to bet on horse-racing could become a political hot-potato as the horse racing industry has historically been regulated and managed under federal purview (via the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency).

Differences aside, both bills will have the effect of decriminalizing single-event sports betting in Canada, with Bill C-218’s sponsor himself noting “it doesn’t matter which bill passes”. The early success of both bills has stoked debates about how the Canadian gaming industry is on the cusp of achieving its “PASPA moment”.

If industry stakeholders are looking for more details about the possibilities that exist for the sports betting industry, they should review the detailed study (the “Report”) released last week by our friends at Deloitte.

The Report provides an insightful summary of the current state of Canadian sports betting and the specific opportunity that regulatory reform can offer for Canadian gaming stakeholders. Note that, at the time the report was released, Bill C-13 remained in effect.

The Report places the discussion concerning legalized sports betting within the broader context of the Canadian entertainment industry by discussing the resources available to stakeholders that operate adjacent to gaming operators and service providers.

Specifically, the report discusses:

  • Broadcasters and Media Companies – The potential for sports betting reform provides Canadian broadcasters and mediacompanies with additional potential sources of income and new ways to engage with audiences. Particularly, they could capitalize on the expected uptick in casino and sportsbook advertising spending.
  • Governments – With the sports betting industry projected to be worth an estimated C$14 billion9, the provincial governments would likely be attracted to new sources of revenue, especially given recent financial relief efforts relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Sports/eSports Franchises and Organizations – Eventually, in the wake of legalization it is unavoidable that sports betting operators will look to secure partnerships with both conventional sports and eSports organizations. last month, for instance, DraftKings struck an exclusive agreement with the NFL to be the sole provider of daily fantasy sports in the country.
  • Other examples include the New Jersey Devils’ advertising partnership with FanDuel, the NBA’s advertising arrangement with Australian corporate bookmaker BetEasy, or the fact that eight out of 20 teams competing in the English Premier League featured multinational gaming companies as their primary kit sponsors during the 2020 season.
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