In Canada, placing bets on “single sporting events” (e.g., money line and straight bets) is supposed to be tightly circumscribed. Paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code effectively excludes “bookmaking, pool selling or the making or recording of bets … on any race or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest” from provincial lottery offerings. That is, the provinces are generally charged with conducting and managing lottery schemes (including traditional lotteries, casino games, bingo, poker, and sports betting), but not even the provinces are allowed by the Code to offer up wagers on single sporting events or athletic contests. As a result, provincial lottery corporations in Canada offer only parlay wagers where bettors must pick, for example, two or more outcomes of their wager correctly in order to win. (Ontario Lottery and Gaming offers Pro-Line, where bettors must wager on the outcome of from 3 to 6 different matches on a parlay to win.)
Joe Comartin, Member of Parliament for Windsor-Tecumseh, has been trying to change this for awhile. Last Friday, he introduced a Private Member’s Bill to do it. The bill (C-627 – An act to amend the Criminal Code – sports betting) is short; its one paragraph provides that paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Code is deleted in its entirety. This would have the effect of removing the single event carve-out; the provinces implicitly would be able to offer single game or event bets. Comartin’s electoral district is in Windsor, Ontario, across the Canada-US border from Detroit and adjacent to the riding in which is found Caesars Windsor, one of the casino resorts in Ontario. Comartin wants to make this legislative change to attract more business from Ontario and Michigan to a major employer in Windsor.
Paragraph 207(4)(b) was first enacted as part of the 1985 amendments to the Part VII (Disorderly Houses, Gaming and Betting) provisions of the Code. While there are no decisions of the Canadian courts on paragraph 207(4)(b) with respect to sports betting, it would clearly be open to a court to infer that the prohibition on single game sports betting was to minimize the risk of match-fixing.
Bill C-627 is what’s called a “private member’s bill.” As to the House of Commons, these are measures introduced by MPs that are not ministers of the government. They don’t authorize the expenditure of public funds – only government bills can do that – and they cannot order the government to take action. They are merely “an expression of opinion by the House.” Private members’ bills must address a subject under the heads of power (or the residual power) reserved to the federal government under the Constitution Act, 1867. The time allotted to debate private members’ bills in Parliament is also restricted. Private members’ bills, as a result, don’t pass that often, although, statistically, they pass more often in a minority government setting. (The Conservative Party is currently running a minority government in the House of Commons.)
This bill likely won’t pass, but it should. It will not fix the problems with provincially-run sports betting in Canada. For example, sophisticated bettors have long complained about the poor odds on offer from the provincial monopolies, among other things. Smart gamblers are already placing bets using private offshore Internet sites, and this amendment won’t change that. Nor does this measure address the continuing tension between the provisions of the Code and what certain First Nations groups in Canada claim (convincingly) is a constitutionally-protected right to conduct and manage Internet gaming and betting.
However, Bill C-627 at least goes some way towards acknowledging that the Internet sports betting industry exists and must be having an effect on the provincial monopolies. It adds some measure of reality to the criminal law in Canada which, with each passing day, seems more anachronistic as it relates to Internet gambling.