TORONTO—Bill C-290, an Act to amend the Criminal Code, which will allow wagering on the outcome of a single sporting event, has certainly attracted a lot of attention recently. The bill was passed unanimously by the House of Commons at third reading after hearings before the House Justice Committee, and has passed first and second reading in the Senate, and earlier this month was passed by the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee after extensive hearings, and reported back to the Senate for third reading debate.
The federal minister of Justice has received letters from five provincial governments requesting the amendment, including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. The provinces of Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick have also indicated support.
The Senate committee sought the views of experts from the regulatory, legal, law enforcement, academia, responsible and problem gambling fields, the International Olympic Committee, and from representatives of North American sports leagues.
The experts included a past chair of the International Association of Gaming Regulators, lawyers recognized by Best Lawyers in Canada as leading practitioners in gaming law, current and former senior officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, a professor of psychiatry from McGill University, and the chief executive officers of the Responsible Gambling Council and the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre.
To a person, all the experts supported the legalization of single event sports betting and passage of Bill C-290—from the aspects of consumer protection, social policy, problem gambling treatment, crime prevention, law enforcement and the ability to detect attempts to fix the outcome of sports events.
Their testimony made the following points: Single-event sports betting in Canada is a huge business; estimated to be in excess of $10-billion annually (and as much as $40-billion) and conducted illegally through bookies by organized crime; and $4-billion through offshore internet sites that are not regulated by Canadian provincial regulators.
Betting on sports is widespread throughout all stratas of Canadian society, and viewed by those betting as either a victimless crime or no crime at all.
Experience shows that if a legal alternative is made available, the overwhelming majority of bettors will patronize it, and that it significantly diminishes illegal activity and consequent revenues to organized crime.
Legalizing gaming makes it easier to build in responsible gambling controls.
Single-event betting is legal in Great Britain, much of Europe, Australia, Nevada, and regulated online gaming sites.
Being able to see who is betting how much and on what greatly enhances the ability to detect attempts of match fixing.
Moving billions of dollars from the underground and offshore economies to the legal domestic economy will provide additional resources to support and sustain programs such as health care and education.
The IOC stated in its submission to the Senate Committee that, “The IOC has adopted a proactive approach by creating a Working Group on Irregular and Illegal Betting in Sport, comprised of representatives of the sports organizations, governments, betting operators, and international organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, The European Union, the Council of Europe and Interpol, in order to define a common approach and position on the matter.”
Among the working groups approved recommendations are: “…to establish an information exchange between existing national sports betting regulatory authorities…the creation of a common monitoring or information exchange system among the various sports betting operators; and the sharing of information with national regulators, international organizations (such as Interpol) and betting operators…and encourage states that have not yet done so to pass legislation that allows for irregular and illegal sports betting to be combated effectively.”
In contrast, the sports leagues insisted that legalizing sports betting would lead to attempts to fix the outcomes of games, which could be true if no sports betting was currently taking place—but we all know that isn’t the case.
They have a point in saying that criminal elements have in the past attempted and continue to attempt to fix the outcome of games. What they seemingly fail to either understand, or more likely, concede, is that bringing the betting above ground, as has been done in Great Britain, Europe, Australia, Nevada, and regulated-online gaming sites, brings to light unusual and questionable betting patterns, or even single bets, that can be and are investigated. This is exactly how the reported match-fixing over the last few years has been detected.
The professional leagues offered no alternatives or solutions and failed to admit the volume of wagering already occurring illegally on their games.
Doesn’t it make sense to offer a legal, regulated environment with proper consumer protection measures? The alternative is to continue to allow organized crime and offshore online operators take billions of dollars out of the Canadian economy.
Bill Rutsey is president & CEO, Canadian Gaming Association.
The Hill Times
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