Was Toronto Super Bowl party bust a cover to allow government into legalized sports gambling

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew
The Saskatchewan government is looking at entering the online gambling industry, but a former chief of a First Nation may beat them to it.

A massive Ontario Super Bowl party raid netted some $2.5 million in allegedly illegal gambling funds and led to the arrest of six people believed to be connected to organized crime.

But was the massive mid-game raid a strike against organized crime or, as one columnist suggests, a strike for online gambling proponents in Ontario?

A Toronto Star columnist smells a conspiracy, suggesting the raid was timed and executed in a way that will benefit the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), those who want government-run online gambling legalized in Ontario.

The raid, which came in the second quarter of the Super Bowl last Sunday, involved some 200 officers including a task force that appeared in full takedown gear. It resulted in the arrest of six suspects, while thousands of others were released from the Markham, Ont., banquet hall without even a warning.

[ Related: Gambling group says Super Bowl bust is argument for lax laws ]

The Star’s Jack Lackey, also known as The Fixer, says the raid paints illegal gambling as a massive problem in the region, and allows OLG to promote itself as the legitimate alternative.

Lackey writes:

Here’s something the police won’t tell you, but I will: It was nothing more than ham-handed, Keystone Cops theatrics, to create the illusion that sports betting is a terrible crime that must be stamped out.

There is something to Lackey’s logic, although there is a gap where he assumes that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are in cahoots with OLG to change online gambling laws.

Here at the Daily Brew, we questioned the Canadian Gaming Association’s decision to hold the Markham raid up as proof that sports betting law should be relaxed.

[ Related: Metro Vancouver rejects casinos, Toronto eyes gaming revenue ]

"What we now have learned is that this party was just one part of a sophisticated organized crime operation taking millions of dollars in sports wagers, the proceeds of which are used to fund other illegal operations of organized crime" CEO Bill Rutsey said in the statement.

It seemed ill-conceived to use such a raid as an argument for looser rules. But under Lackey’s near-conspiratorial light, we can see the connection.

Lackey writes:

No, this was a bogus bust orchestrated for TV news, to sell chumps on the idea that a heinous criminal enterprise was being shut down.

We will soon hear that the best and only way to truly eradicate illegal gambling is for the province to become the online bookie, through the OLG.

What remains in doubt is whether that would be such a bad thing.

A government-run online gambling site was unveiled in Manitoba last month and there have been no complaints so far. A similar site already exists in British Columbia.

According to CBC News, the raid was purposely timed to do maximum damage to the gambling organization. Was it also timed to have maximum benefit for OLG?