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Single-sports betting in Canada wins House vote, nears legalization

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Jeff Lagerquist
·3 min read
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Legislation to legalize gambling on single games of hockey, football and other sports will advance to Canada’s Senate. (Jason Franson/The Canadian  Press via AP)
Legislation to legalize gambling on single games of hockey, football and other sports will advance to Canada’s Senate. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Legislation to legalize gambling on single games of hockey, football and other sports will advance to Canada’s Senate, following a third debate and vote in the House of Commons.

Bill C-218 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to give provinces and territories permission to regulate online and in-person bets on the outcome of individual sports events. Most legal sports bets in Canada must include at least two events, known as parlay wagering. Currently, horse races are the only single sporting event that can be bet on legally.

The result has been an estimated $14 billion per year in wagers from Canadians going to offshore firms like Bet365.com and homegrown illegal bookmakers, according to the Canadian Gaming Association. A recent report by Deloitte Canada suggests that within five years of legalization, Canadian sports betting could grow from $500 million to nearly $28 billion in legal-market wagering.

Bill C-218 returned to the House on Thursday night after a review by the Commons’ Justice and Human Rights Committee. It has been enthusiastically backed by members of all parties, and has remained largely untouched throughout the legislative process, with the exception of an amendment to keep Canada’s parimutuel betting system for horse-racing intact.

The advancement of C-218 has prompted a flurry of investment in Canadian companies looking to capture what is expected to be a large base of sports gamblers in this country. Companies like Score Media and Gaming (SCR.TO)(SCR), Bragg Gaming Group (BRAG.TO), and FansUnite Entertainment (FANS.CN) have seen their shares rise on the hopes that Canada’s legal betting market will mirror the rapid growth seen in the United States after legal reforms in 2018. 

"Now that Bill C-218 has been passed by the House, we look forward to the Senate swiftly carrying the ball over the goal line," Score Media and Gaming CEO John Levy said in a statement Thursday night.

theScore estimates a market potential for online gaming in Canada of between US$3.8 billion and US$5.4 billion in annual gross gaming revenue. The company bases its figures on historical data from legal online gaming markets in the U.S. and globally. 

"Canadians have demonstrated overwhelming support for this update to the federal legislation, and this was reflected in the strong cross-party backing for the bill," Bragg Gaming CEO Adam Arviv said in a statement on Friday. "It's a strong step forward for the Canadian legal gambling market and a win for the Canadian economy."

Expectations for a robust Canadian sports gaming market have even drawn attention from American betting giants like DraftKings (DKNG).

Legal single-sports gambling in Canada could also spur growth beyond betting companies. Deloitte Canada predicts opportunities spanning the IT, telecom, media and secure payment sectors. 

Canada’s casino industry, which has been hard hit by COVID-19, also stands to benefit. Many casinos in Canada are a short drive away from competition across the U.S. border, where it’s legal to bet on single sports events in person.

Thursday night’s decision is a victory for Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, who has backed C-218 as a private member’s bill.

“This bill has the potential to unlock new growth opportunities, reduce illegal betting and generate revenues for both the sporting industry and governments,” he told members of the House on Thursday.

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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