If you’ve visited an online sportsbook to place a wager or two on Bryson DeChambeau expecting the hellacious hitter of the golf ball to wreak havoc on Augusta National — and the field — at this weekend’s Masters tournament,chances are you did so without realizing that the sportsbook isn’t a legal entity in Canada.
For many, reading the fine print doesn’t go beyond checking the best-before date on the almost-empty carton of milk or tub of yogurt that’s been sitting in your fridge for … fingers crossed … two weeks. There’s no way you’ve bothered to go through the terms of conditions, for example, of a sportsbook such as betway.com. If you did, you’d see the company is licensed in Britain, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, Spain and Sweden.
Noticeably absent: Canada.
That may change as early as this year, providing first that the House of Commons and the Senate approve an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada which will allow for single-event sports wagering. Passing of the amendment will give the provinces authority to license and regulate this country’s sports wagering industry. Until now, legal sports wagering has been limited to parlay-style games operating by provincial lotteries or unregulated offshore wagering books. According to the Canadian Gaming Association, $14 billion annually is spent by Canadians on offshore betting websites and $14 billion annually is spent by Canadians on offshore betting websites and illegal gambling operations.
“(Sports gambling) is not going away,” said Paul Burns, president and CEO of the CGA, an advocate for an expansion of the gaming industry across the country. “We’ve had it for decades in this country, and we’re just trying to change the way we do it.”
While it’s perfectly legal for Canadians to place a wager on those offshore gaming websites today, many bettors don’t realize they’re playing on unregulated sites — especially since gaming companies are promoting their free-to-play games and other products during Canadian televised sporting events (Georges St-Pierre, showing off a head of hair, promoting BET99) and on other media outlets.
But that lack of regulation can come with a price.
Burns and the CGA office frequently receive phone calls from bettors looking for help in trying to settle a dispute with an offshore operation. It’s also not unusual for bettors to complain about operators having deep pockets and short fingers when it comes to releasing money to winners.
“Internet gaming grew up as the wild west,” Burns said. “I was at conferences in 2007 and 2008, and (the offshore businesses) were taking pride in saying they weren’t regulated and they weren’t paying taxes. People were doing their own thing and making a ton of money.
“The reality is that the world has caught up. Many of the leading companies have been asking the provincial governments, ‘Will you please regulate us? And we’ll pay taxes.’”
That’s good news for Canadian sports bettors, especially those living in Ontario. Burns says the province is not only well-positioned to begin the licensing process once Bill C-218 gets the go-ahead in Ottawa, but will also be wide open for business. OLG, DraftKings, FanDuel, theScore Bet and PointsBets are expected to have a presence in the province’s new regulated betting marketplace. (Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star, announced in February that it intends to launch an online casino betting brand.)
“What’s attractive in terms of the North American sports market is that Ontario is the fifth- or sixth-largest jurisdiction available. Here’s a market of 14 1/2 million people.” Burns says. “We’re bigger than Michigan, we have more people than New Jersey, we’re bigger than Pennsylvania.”
And that will provide bettors with an a la carte menu of wagering options, whether it’s laying down money on the traditional betting-friendly sports (NFL and college football, the NBA, MLB), or finding a “long tail” site that provides an expanded sports odds offering to include hockey, golf, European soccer, MLS, tennis and cricket, and Canadian-based leagues such as the CFL, Canadian Premier League and Canadian Elite Basketball League.
“Hockey is going to be the interesting one,” Burns said. “If you can get live in-game wagering right, you’re going to win because we have a very high knowledge base for hockey in this country. There are games almost every night of the week. With Canadian hockey fans, they will watch Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on a Tuesday night because they’re Penguins fans as much as they are a Canadiens fan or a Leafs fan.
“We’re bringing a whole new group of people into the gambling scene because a lot of people who bet on sports won’t consider themselves to be gamblers. They may never go to a casino, but they bet on sports every year.”
Offshore gaming operators feeling smug that their Canadian customers won’t leave because of the inconvenience of signing up with a new operator may very well be disappointed. An American Gaming Association study conducted in the spring of 2020 showed that bettors in the U.S. were moving toward regulated companies, and spending with “illegal bookies” dropped 25 per cent in legal betting states in 2019.
“Ontario is going to be a very competitive marketplace,” said Burns.