Under the Criminal Code (Canada), provincial governments are the only entities that are allowed to operate gaming sites and conduct and manage lottery schemes in Canada, subject to certain limited exceptions such as pari-mutuel racetrack wagering. The Ontario government, for example, has established The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation pursuant to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation Act, 1999 as the provincial entity that is empowered to conduct and manage gaming sites and lottery schemes in Ontario on behalf of the province. Other provincial governments have established similar entities to conduct such activities on their behalf, such as the British Columbia Lottery Corporation.
The Criminal Code, however, currently prohibits the conduct or management of lottery schemes that involve betting on single sporting events, whether by a provincial government or otherwise. Sports betting in Canada can only be conducted via parlay betting (i.e., betting on multiple outcomes on a single ticket). However, a bill is currently being debated in the Senate that would change this regime. If passed, Bill C-290 (the Bill) would repeal paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code and make it lawful for the government of a province, or a person or entity licensed by a province, to conduct and manage a lottery scheme that involves betting on a single sport event or athletic contest.
The Bill was introduced in the federal House of Commons as a private members' bill on September 28, 2011. It passed second reading on November 1, 2011 and was referred to the House Justice Committee, which held its hearing on February 16, 2012. On March 2, 2012, a third reading debate was held and the Bill received unanimous consent with support from all political parties in the House of Commons. The Bill was then referred to the Senate, where it has now reached its third and final reading. As an unelected, appointed body, the Senate generally approves bills that have received the approval of the elected House of Commons as a matter of course. However, the Bill has received a significant amount of scrutiny and opposition during its third reading in the Senate. Although the Bill received unanimous support in the House of Commons, it has been suggested that there was relatively little scrutiny or debate of the Bill at that time.
Critics of the Bill have expressed concern that allowing gamblers to wager on single sporting events would encourage match fixing in professional sports. The National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association have all opposed the Bill for this reason in submissions to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Proponents of the Bill, on the other hand, have touted the potential economic benefits and increase to government revenues that would result from legalizing betting on single sporting events. A number of provincial governments support the Bill for this reason. The Canadian Gaming Association estimates that several billion dollars are wagered every year on single sporting events in Canada, either through illegal bookmaking operations or offshore online sports betting sites. It is anticipated that casinos in Windsor and Niagara would see increased traffic from the U.S. if the Bill is passed into law, as very few states in the U.S. allow betting on single sporting events. Any new casino and entertainment complex that is established in the Greater Toronto Area (or elsewhere in Ontario) would also have the ability to conduct and manage lottery schemes involving betting on single sporting events if the Bill is passed by the Senate.
Senator George Baker has stated publicly that he expects the "vast majority" of the Liberal caucus and about half of the Conservatives to vote against the Bill in the Senate. If this is correct, there is a real possibility that the Bill will be rejected. This would represent a historic milestone in Canada as the Senate has never before rejected legislation that was unanimously passed by members of the House of Commons. The Bill's sponsor in the Senate, Bob Runciman, has indicated recently that he expects that the Bill may never come to a vote and simply die on the order paper when the Senate breaks for the summer.
The Bill has been debated five times in the Senate so far during its third reading, most recently on March 7, 2013. It remains to be seen when debate on the Bill will resume.