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LV-style sports gambling coming to Canadian casinos?

Jul 25, 2008 8:44 PM

by GT Staff | With revenues dwindling in casinos in Canada, the federal and Ontario governments are reportedly moving toward allowing Las Vegas-style sports gambling according to a story in the Toronto Star.

The high Canadian dollar and increased security at the border has resulted in less American visitors to the casinos in Niagara Falls and Windsor. To entice gamblers from the United States, Queen’s Park is now urging the federal government in Ottawa to amend the Criminal Code of Canada and create sportsbooks for the casinos.

Currently, the casinos in Ottawa offer a government-run lottery called Pro-Line which limits the bettors to choosing the outcomes of three or more sports contest on a parlay ticket.

This new proposal would then allow gamblers to wager on the outcomes of football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and other games individually – called straight bets in Las Vegas sportsbooks.

Although Ontario is interested specifically in sportsbooks at the two casinos in Niagara Falls as well as the new Caesars Windsor and the existing Casino Rama, any change in the law could also apply to horse tracks such as Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.

Sources say former provincial infrastructure minister David Caplan – who has moved to the health ministry – made the request in writing to federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson last year.

"I have encouraged provinces that … we have in the past responded to requests to change the laws as they relate to betting," Nicholson said. "If they want to engage stakeholders, then I am prepared to listen."

The story says that insiders say the two levels of government are quietly cooperating. But the current laws in Canada strictly outlaw bookmaking and other reports say there is still heavy opposition to changing the laws.

Casinos in Ontario already have the infrastructure for a sports book in place with TV screens, scoreboards and seating.

These new sports books would theoretically give these casinos in Windsor and Niagara Falls a "major competitive advantage" since it is not allowed in Michigan – which borders Windsor – or New York.

One possible problem in getting approval to change the Criminal Code is that the minority federal Conservatives are worried that the federal Liberals or the New Democrats may oppose this proposed change strictly for political reasons.

But New Democratic Party, Member of Parliament Joe Comartin said he has approached Nicholson several times to express his support for the idea.

Comartin said sports betting would give these casinos in Windsor and Niagara Falls "a major competitive advantage" since it isn’t legally allowed in New York or Michigan and is only available in 150 casinos in Nevada.

"What is would do is generate traffic into the casino for that particular type of betting and then you pick up additional business," Comartin said, adding that other provinces are also lobbying for the change.