The margins for the sports book are thin, in the 3-5% range, but they bring people to the casino. And that means hotel rooms, restaurant business, and more, said Paul Burns of the Canadian Gaming Association. “This appeals to Canadians who want a little more out of the game,” said Burns. “What’s better than a regulated, fair sports betting operation?”
Will sports betting — and a new twist on the games — boost Ontario casinos?
By ROB GRANATSTEIN
In the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, MPs gathered to watch the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens battle it out in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semi-final.
And to bet on the game.
Of course, betting on an individual game is against the Criminal Code in Canada and we know our law-abiding, hockey-loving politicians would never do that.
Instead, they were testing the newest way to bet on games — proposition bets. Who will win the opening faceoff? Who will get the first penalty? Who will score the first goal?
The propositions can change through the period, as do the odds. It’s all done wirelessly. And the MPs loved it. Who wouldn’t?
During the NCAA basketball tournament, proposition betting had fans cheering against their teams and cheering for their bets. After a basket, new odds would be posted on whether the team with the ball would go for a two pointer, or dial long distance for a three-ball. It can be that instantaneous.
Casinos could set it up like your living room: Your buddies, lounge chairs, beer, snacks, the game in HD, and betting on a hand-held device — put some money on your tab and go.
And the push is now officially on to bring Vegas-style sports betting — and more, with the proposition bets — to Ontario and Canada.
Sports betting is huge business. Ontario already has Pro-Line, but you have to pick three games, minimum. If you want to bet on the Super Bowl, you also have to pick a couple of hockey games. Serious betters mock the system. They should.
Then there’s the illegal betting. Online casinos, online sports books, bookies. In the U.S. about $30 billion is wagered under the table, up to $1 billion in Canada. The state of Nevada takes in $2.6 billion with its sports books.
The margins for the sports book are thin, in the 3-5% range, but they bring people to the casino. And that means hotel rooms, restaurant business, and more, said Paul Burns of the Canadian Gaming Association.
“This appeals to Canadians who want a little more out of the game,” said Burns. “What’s better than a regulated, fair sports betting operation?”
How about not betting? Toronto Blue Jays President Paul Godfrey said no one has even called the Jays about bringing sports books to Canada, and especially not proposition betting.
“If it’s going to encourage fans to go to the casino and not the event, I have concerns about that,” Godfrey said.
The government would also be profiting off the backs of sports, again, he noted.
Pro sports have suffered from betting scandals, including the recent charges against NBA referee Tim Donaghy for betting on games, and, of course, Pete Rose in baseball. But some leagues still don’t rebuff it —
Bowmans.net, a twin to Bowmans’ betting site, advertises at Argo games.
The Gaming Association is gambling the new offering can reverse the perfect storm blowing through the casino industry, especially in Ontario, right now.
Smoking bans, the Canadian dollar’s rise, price of gas, economic downturn. The good times aren’t rolling any more. Casinos aren’t going out of business, but they’re not faulty, one-armed bandits spitting out profits, either.
“The industry is looking to help Ontario regain a competitive advantage over the border,” Burns said. Casino Windsor and Caesars compete with Detroit casinos. Niagara Falls fights against Niagara Falls, NY.
Sports betting will also not expand in the U.S. The NCAA and existing legislation will prevent it.
Why else is Ontario pushing? In Nevada, 283,000 extra visitors come to the state during Super Bowl, pumping $110 million into its coffers. Vegas is a destination. Windsor? Not so much. Niagara Falls? Maybe.
But it will take political will to change the Criminal Code for betting on sports to actually show up in casinos in Windsor and Niagara Falls.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson also represents Niagara Falls. He also happens to work for a law-and-order party that isn’t known for loosening the rules. And will Nicholson want to be seen pushing hard for a change that will so obviously benefit his riding?
Changes can happen. The government allowed dice games to become legal in 1998. The Ontario Liberal government is asking for another change — one that would boost its finances, and maybe take a little something away from the criminals.
A Liberal ask. A Conservative answer.
Anyone laying odds on the outcome?