No Longer a Private Member's Bill: Minister of Justice Proposes Legal Single Event Sport Betting in Canada

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Bennett Jones LLPAfter almost a decade of attempts by individual members of parliament, Cabinet has taken up the mantle of gaming law reform, and yesterday the Minister of Justice introduced legislation to decriminalize single event sport betting in Canada. If passed, Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (single event sport betting), would permit provinces and territories to regulate and license single event sport betting on any sporting event except horse racing. This is an important development in gaming in Canada that will create a new and regulated sector in the industry.

The proposed amendments would give provinces and territories the discretion to manage single event sport betting in their respective jurisdictions and offer Canadians an opportunity to place bets in a regulated environment either online or in physical facilities. This is a long-awaited announcement. The gaming industry, professional sports leagues, labour unions, provincial governments and opposition parties have been calling for this change to Canada's Criminal Code for years. The federal NDP first introduced a private members bill proposing the change in 2011.

This is the second major announcement for Canada's gaming industry this month. Ontario's pandemic-recovery budget bill (released November 5, 2020) included a suite of revisions to the legislation regulating online gaming/gambling in the province. Notably, these revisions would grant the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) the authority to conduct and manage online gaming through a subsidiary, in addition to continuing its role as provincial regulator. In its budget bill, Ontario prompted the federal government to pay heed to the issue of legal single event sport wagering. We wrote on this in Pandemic Payoff: Can the AGCO, and the Potential for Single-Event Wagering, Reinvigorate Legal Online Gaming in Ontario?

The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code were also driven by the rapid legalization of legal sports wagering in the United States—including border states Michigan, New York and Washington. In May 2018, a United States Supreme Court decision overturned a federal law prohibiting states from authorizing sports gambling (Murphy, Governor of New Jersey, et al. v. National Collegiate Athletic Association et al.). We previously wrote on this in What Are the Odds for Single Event Sports Wagering in Canada?

The federal government says that decriminalizing single event sport betting in Canada will strengthen Canada's economy, support jobs and reduce criminal activity. The revenues generated from provincial and territorial-operated gambling could be used by provinces and territories to fund programs and services, as they currently do with other lottery revenues. The government says it is also proposing to engage with provinces and territories and with Indigenous communities and organizations that have expressed an interest in discussing how gambling is regulated.

Interested businesses and prospective service providers should take note and prepare for the passage of this legislation, including through engagement with the applicable provincial regulators. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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