On Thursday April 22nd, the “Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act” (“Bill C-218”, or the “Bill”) passed third reading in Canada’s House of Commons. Bill C-218 is now on its way to the Senate where it will be further reviewed and debated as early as May 4th, 2021.

As discussed in our previous Wager Watch article, Bill C-218 was re-introduced in mid-February after the government-sponsored version of a similar bill (Bill C-13) was delayed numerous times. Bill C-218 has generally received widespread support (passing 303-15 at second reading and unanimously at the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights), and like Bill C-13, proposes to amend section 207(4)(b) of the Canadian Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46) (the “Criminal Code”) that currently prohibits “bookmaking, pool selling or the making or recording of bets [...] on any race or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest”. Bill C-218 proposes to eliminate much of this section of the Criminal Code so as to bring single event sports betting within the legal “conduct and manage” mandate of the provinces and territories of Canada.

Whereas previous versions of Bill C-218 contemplated extending wagering activities to horse racing – something historically reserved for the exclusive jurisdiction of the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (“CPMA”) – the latest version of the Bill heading to the Senate has restored the CPMA’s exclusive jurisdiction to regulate and supervise pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in response to the submissions received from industry stakeholders during the Bill’s committee stage. The result is that the current horse racing framework will be left intact.

As detailed in a previous Wager Watch article, prior attempts to lift the criminal prohibitions barring single event sports betting have been ongoing since 2011, with efforts nearly paying off in 2015. A confluence of underlying circumstances unique to 2021 make Bill C-218’s passage more promising than in prior years.

First, the Bill is being debated in a post-PASPA environment giving Canadian lawmakers ample evidence of the success (and safety) of regulated, legal sports betting in the United States.

Additionally, Bill C-218 is being considered in an environment where provincial regulators and gaming and lottery operators have either modernized - or have stated their intention to modernize – all aspects of their gaming and lottery operations. For instance, the province of Ontario recently announced its intention to update its current iGaming framework and to explore new opportunities for private sector businesses to become involved in iGaming in the province.

For Ontarians specifically, what remains to be seen is how the current federal amendments to the Criminal Code will interface with the province’s contemplated changes to the provincial iGaming model (detailed in our Wager Watch article here). With the provincial government now reviewing feedback received from industry stakeholders against the backdrop of a Senate-bound Bill C-218, commentators eagerly await to see whether a mini gold-rush for online casino and sports betting businesses is set to flourish here in Canada.