Single-Event Sports Betting: Decriminalization in the Cards as Bill C-218 Passes House of Commons

Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP

[co-author: Luiz Brasil, Articling Student]

On April 22, 2021, an amended Bill C-218, which seeks to allow single-event sports betting in Canada, passed its third reading in the House of Commons.

As discussed in our February 2021 Blakes Bulletin: Single-Event Sports Betting: Place Your Bets on Which Bill Makes It Across the Line, there were previously two competing bills seeking to decriminalize single-event sports betting: a government sponsored Bill C-13, introduced by the federal government last year; and Bill C-218, a private member’s bill introduced by Saskatoon-Grasswood Conservative MP, Kevin Waugh.

Both bills would have decriminalized single-event sports betting by amending section 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code (the provision that currently restricts single-event sports betting). However, each bill originally approached the necessary amendments to the Criminal Code in slightly different ways. The government-backed Bill C-13 removed the single-event sports betting restriction in section 207(4)(b) but included language to specifically maintain Canada’s current pari-mutuel system of betting for horse racing. Bill C-218 on the other hand, deleted section 207(4)(b) which may have called into question the pari-mutuel system moving forward.

Given the similarities between the bills, and as Bill C-218 was one step ahead in the legislative process, the Liberal government decided to drop Bill C-13 and instead support Bill C-218. Bill C-218 was considered by the Justice Committee following its second reading. By unanimous vote, the bill’s language was revised to be the same as that of Bill C-13. As a result, the version of Bill C-218 which passed third reading in the House of Commons is essentially the same as Bill C-13.

Before single-event sports betting is decriminalized in Canada, Bill C-218 must be approved by the Senate and then receive royal assent. We do note, however, that a similar bill failed to pass in the Senate a few years ago. In 2012, Windsor-Tecumseh NDP MP Joe Comartin introduced a private member’s bill which received all party support but stalled for three years in the Senate, and ultimately died when Parliament was dissolved before the 2015 election. Unlike the 2015 effort, however, support for the decriminalization of single-event sports betting from among industry stakeholders and the provinces is at an all-time high. Given that Bill C-218 previously passed its second reading with a 303-15 vote, the bill has excellent momentum heading into the Senate.

Should Bill C-218 successfully become law, it will be up to each individual province to determine how to conduct and manage single-event sports betting within its borders, as the Criminal Code requires that gambling be conducted and managed by a province. Typically, provinces do this through provincial crown corporations, such as the British Columbia Lottery Corporation, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and Loto Quebec. Some of these authorize private operators to operate land-based casinos on their behalves, so it might be expected sports books facilities would be developed in such establishments.

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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