Focus: Advocates concerned about fate of betting bill

With the Pan Am Games taking place in Toronto, Ontario is likely losing money from bets placed either underground or offshore while a bill that would legalize single-sports betting in Canada languishes in the Senate, according to gaming industry professionals.

“It would strike me as rather improbable that there’s no betting taking place on the Pan Am Games,” says Bill Rutsey, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Gaming Association.

“People in Canada and around the world are very interested in sports and a lot of the people who are interested in sports are interested in betting the outcome of the events,” he adds.

After passing the House of Commons, bill C-290 is awaiting final approval by the Senate. It entered the Senate in March 2012 and if the upper chamber doesn’t approve it before the upcoming federal election, it will ultimately die.

“The bill is on life support,” says Rutsey.

“The Senate has a few days left to do the right thing.”

The bill would amend the Criminal Code to allow wagering on single sports, which is currently illegal in Canada. Currently, people can place bets only on a number of games through parlay betting. The Criminal Code, however, does allow private single bets between individuals who aren’t engaging in the business of betting and wagering.

Don Bourgeois, principal of Gaming & Regulation Group Inc. and former general counsel of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, says it’s difficult to understand the political motivation for stalling the bill.

“Reading through and listening to the comments that have been made by the senators who have some concerns with respect to the proposal, my summary or my sense of it is that they misunderstand the regulatory structures that exist in Canada today,” says Bourgeois.

“They also misconstrued who will be doing the gaming activities,” he adds. If single-sports betting were legal, Crown corporations would conduct it, he notes. “They may use the services of registrants or licensees that have met certain standards by the regulators, but it would be the Crown corporations like the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., Atlantic Lottery, Loto-Québec . . . all of which are public institutions.”

Some of the resistance around making single-sports betting illegal reflects a misconception of which games would be fair game for wagering, according to Bourgeois.

“I recall one of the senators commenting about [how] she didn’t want gambling on her daughter’s . . . ice-skating competitions. No one, no one in their right mind would suggest that would be the type of betting that would occur,” he says.

“The type of betting that would occur would be on the sports that have the component to it that ensure the integrity of the game. No one can ensure 100-per-cent integrity of every single baseball player and football player or a hockey player, but those leagues have measures, and very respected measures, to ensure that the game is played with integrity and the regulators also are in a position to ensure there’s integrity in the game.”

Bourgeois also says a variety of measures, including data analytics, forensics, and auditing, would ensure the integrity of the game. Currently, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., the British Columbia Lottery Corp., and Loto-Québec limit the amount of betting that occurs on certain games in parlay bets, which are legal, in order to prevent any inappropriate activities.

“So there’s existing measures in place for the parlay betting, and the regulators and the Crown corporations that would be involved have a great deal of capacity and knowledge to protect the public as well as the integrity of the game,” says Bourgeois.

But one of the main arguments proponents of the bill bring forward is that there’s already betting of this kind in Canada. In fact, the Canadian Gaming Association says more than $46 billion has left Canada in underground and offshore betting since bill C-290 entered the Senate.

“The difficulty is that the person who is placing the bet doesn’t have the assurances that they’re dealing with an appropriate entity, such as the OLG, they don’t know with certainty that they’re going to get their money back, they don’t know with certainty that the money is not being used for other purposes,” says Bourgeois.

“Players can be defrauded by people and there are no regulatory protections built in from our regulatory point of view or legal point of view for those individuals who are betting with the poor operators.”

For his part, Bourgeois isn’t sure the Pan Am Games would have been fair game for single-sports betting had the bill passed.

“I don’t know,” he says.

“There would have been a number of decisions based upon these things: What sports from the Pan Am Games are low risk? What are the risk-mitigation measures taken for that activity?”

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