We in the United States are enjoying our state-by-state sports betting rollout. But Canada is simultaneously ahead of and behind the curve. Canada has had legal sports betting longer than the United States, so bettors may think it’s some sports betting paradise. However, Canada only allowed parlay bets. Single-game lines had to be paid out of a pool or wagered in a pari-mutuel system. That dilutes winnings and leaves bettors with little more than bragging rights.
For bettors who don’t know, parlay bets are big risky bets made of smaller bets. So, if bettors wager on two teams winning their games, both teams have to win for the bet to pay out. If one team loses, the whole parlay bet loses. It’s riskier, but its payout is higher. But that risk doesn’t make it fun to bet. Not only is it harder to profit from individual games. It also demands that bettors care enough about multiple games to bet on them with longer odds. That alienates casual bettors and cripples Canada’s sports betting industry.
However, two Canadian bills are seeking to change that. One bill is a government bill and the other is a private member’s bill. (We’ll tell you what that means below, but that’s not the important difference between these bills.) The government bill amends part of the criminal code to allow fixed odds betting on single-event sports betting. The private member’s bill repeals the entire section of the criminal code forbidding single-event sports betting altogether.
Here’s what all that jargon means.
How Canadian Bills Work
There are two types of bills that address Canadian public policy: government bills and private member’s bills. There are two differences between them. The first is government bills are introduced by high-ranking public officials and private member’s bills are introduced by House of Commons members who aren’t cabinet ministers. But the second difference is more important. Government bills have a better chance of passing than private member’s bills. That’s because of one of the most nauseating aspects of Canadian government: party discipline.
In the United States, members of Congress can vote however they want, regardless of party. They’ll likely face retaliation for voting against their parties, but they’re free to be swing votes. In Canada, party members must vote the way the party leader wants. Whatever the party leader thinks is the best way to vote, all party members must fall in line. Since high-ranking party members introduce government bills, the majority government passes its bills more easily.
However, the private bill is doing well. Conservative Kevin Waugh introduced a bill that would repeal the section of law prohibiting fixed-odds single-event wagering. The Liberal party is the current majority (technically it’s a plurality since no party has more than half the seats.) So, it’s unsurprising to see its bill doing well. But the Conservative bill has a chance to pass the Senate, which is where a similar sports betting bill died in 2011.
Why The Government And Private Bills Are Both Doing Well
Sports betting reform has been on the Canadian government’s mind for at least a decade. Because sports betting options are so few, Canadian’s wager 28 times more money offshore and illegally than through Canada’s current legal framework. Here’s how that breaks down:
|Illegal Bookmakers||$10 billion|
|Offshore Sportsbook||$4 billion|
|Legal Canadian Betting||$500 million|
Less than 3.5% of Canada’s sports wagers are made legally or in Canada. That leaves money on the table for Canada’s government. But it also leaves Canadian bettors at the mercy of sportsbooks that Canada can’t regulate. It can’t enforce security standards, cash reserve requirements, or industry regulations that make sports betting fair. Canada’s sports bettors are at the mercy of illegal sportsbooks with no obligation to pay winnings or manage themselves responsible and offshore sportsbooks that compete successfully against Canada’s strict gambling restrictions.
Add a giant sports betting market growing at Canada’s southern border, and it’s easy to see why Justin Trudeau’s party and the Conservative party can unite behind sports betting reform.
Recent Canadian Bill Developments
The private member’s bill–C-218–passed its second reading in the House of Commons without being voted down. So, it still has a chance of becoming law. On March 25, an amendment was added to bill C-218 which allowed horse racing to continue offering parimutuel bets. That way, horse races wouldn’t have to change to fixed prizes. (The lower placing horses would likely make much less money, making Canada’s horse racing industry uncompetitive–especially when the United States has many lucrative horse racing tracks.)
The government bill–C-13–already had that amendment in place. So now, there are basically two identical sports betting bills in Canada. Different parties and officials at different levels of the government back these bills. But now it may simply be a matter of which bill crosses the finish line first. C-218 has had two readings while C-13 has only had one. The lawmaking process moves slowly but keeping both bills alive is a strong signal that sports betting reform is coming to Canada.