Single-sports betting heads for legalization as Bill C-218 clears Senate

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 10: Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche fights with Zach Whitecloud #2 of the Vegas Golden Knights at the end of the second period in Game Six of the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on June 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)
Single-sports betting took a big step closer to legalization on Tuesday. Legislation to amend the criminal code has cleared the Senate, and is now eligible for royal assent to become law. (Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)

Legislation allowing Canadians to legally bet on single hockey, football and other sporting events has cleared the Senate, leaving royal assent as the final ceremonial step before Bill C-218 becomes law.

The push to end Canada's single-game betting ban has been watched closely by gambling firms in Canada and abroad eyeing a new market expected to be worth billions of dollars. The decision marks the final legislative hurdle for C-218, the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, in what has so far been a tight race to the finish line ahead of Parliament's summer break.

Fifty-seven Senators voted in favour of Bill C-218 on Tuesday, 20 voted against, and five abstained. The result lifted shares of Toronto-based Score Media and Gaming (SCR.TO)(SCR) and Bragg Gaming Group (BRAG.TO) in the final minutes of Tuesday's trading session.

In Canada, a bill must be granted royal assent by the Governor General before officially becoming an act of Parliament. In this case, Chief Justice Richard Wagner would perform this duty. The law would then come into force on a date set by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet.

The Senate’s banking, trade and commerce committee advanced the bill on June 4, leaving only a handful of sitting days before the upper chamber begins its summer break at the end of this week.

On Monday, Senators continued the debate on issues of consumer protection, gambling addiction, benefits to the economy, and the risk of increasing corruption and fraud in sports. A significant portion of the debate also focused on how Indigenous peoples would engage with provinces tasked with regulating the new forms of gambling.

Bill C-218 received its third and final reading on Monday. The legislation has faced two attempts at amendment in the upper chamber. Sen. Mary Jane McCallum proposed an amendment sought by Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke shortly before the Senate adjourned at its scheduled cut off time of 9 p.m. last Thursday.

The change, which was voted down on Monday, would have permitted an Indigenous council, government or other entity to conduct and manage a lottery "scheme" (which could include sports betting) under an agreement or arrangement with the federal government. If adopted, the amendment would have punted the legislation back to the House of Commons days before the summer break.

Senators also voted down an amendment proposed by Sen. Vernon White last Thursday. That change was aimed at addressing perceived shortcomings in the current laws pertaining to fraud and corruption in sports.

Big business eyes billions in blackmarket spending

Online sportsbook operators like Score Media and Gaming, the National Hockey League (NHL), telecommunications and media giant Rogers Communications (RCI-B.TO), and a number of other stakeholders have openly supported C-218’s proposed amendment to the Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code currently bans wagering on a single sporting event, with the exception of horse racing, in what is referred to as parlay betting. That hasn’t stopped offshore and black market operators from opening their books to up to $14 billion in bets from Canadians annually, according to the Canadian Gaming Association. A report earlier this year 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.

Toronto-based Score Media and Gaming, which owns sports apps offering pregame and in-game betting in some U.S. states, estimates the market potential for online betting in Canada is between US$3.8 billion and US$5.4 billion.

"The forthcoming legalization of single event sports betting presents a substantial growth opportunity for our integrated media and betting business," John Levy, chairman and CEO of the company commonly known as theScore, said in a news release on Tuesday.

"We have been actively preparing for the expansion of online sports betting and iGaming in our home province of Ontario, which is expected to commence later this year. We are very favourably positioned to succeed given our mobile betting experience and vast active user base."

South of the border, single-sports gambling has exploded in popularity since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning the practice in 2018. The decision paved the way for companies like BetMGM, DraftKings (DKNG), and FanDuel to capture massive audiences looking to wager on individual sporting events in states that allow practice. Yahoo Sports U.S. has a partnership with BetMGM in U.S. jurisdictions where single-sports betting is legal.

"DraftKings has been part of the Canadian sports culture for many years," Griffin Finan, vice-president of government affairs and associate general counsel for the Boston-based company said in a statement. "We look forward to working closely with officials in each province as they continue to develop their approach to legalized sports betting."

Earlier this month, Canadian NHL great Wayne Gretzky signed a deal with BetMGM to become a brand ambassador for the American sports gambling giant. The New Jersey-based company did not provide specific details on "The Great One's" compensation or day-to-day role.

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

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