Conservative MP Kevin Waugh crossing fingers as sports betting bill heads to Senate

·4 min read

Kevin Waugh has pushed legalized single-game sports betting to the brink of reality in Canada, but he's realistic about the chances of success for Bill C-218.

"Am I confident? I'd say 50-50," the Saskatoon-based Conservative MP said. "It's kind of out of my hands now.

"Even though I got it through the House, it's in the Senate and the Senate is a little bit different. They go to their own beat. Is it going to come out? Who knows, especially a backbencher's PMB (private member's bill) and a Conservative at that."

Waugh introduced a private member's bill last year to amend the Criminal Code and legalize single-game sports betting in Canada. Bill C-218 passed third reading in the House of Commons last month and is currently in the Senate.

The bill is scheduled for second reading next week and if it passes, it would then go to committee. The committee's report would then go back to the Senate, where the bill would be debated a third time. If it was passed, it would go back to the House of Commons for final discussion.

If the bill was approved there, it would go before Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner — who is filling the administration duties for Governor General role following Julie Payette's resignation — for royal assent.

There are several government bills before the Senate. And time is of the essence because if Bill C-218 isn't passed by the time both the Senate and House leave for the summer later next month, it could result in the end of the bill if Canadians head to the polls this fall.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could call an election prior to the return of MPs in September. And once the House of Commons reconvenes, the opposition could force an election by defeating the government in a confidence vote.

"If (Bill C-218) doesn't come out by June, I don't think we're going to see it," Waugh said.

When an election is called, any bill that hasn't been passed becomes null and void, which was the fate of a previous sports gambling bill in 2015. Following the election, the bill would have to be rewritten and go through the entire process all over again.

That could take time although a government-backed bill could speed up the process exponentially.

"The timing is right and I think many people agree," Waugh said. "I just think it's time we get our share."

Currently in Canada, it's legal to bet on parlays. Those are multiple wagers linked together that usually must all be correct for a person to win the bet. The successful passing of Bill C-218 would make provinces and territories responsible for regulating and licensing websites, casinos and other businesses that would allow single-game wagers.

And that's important given estimates that offshore sites, U.S. casinos and illegal bookmakers constitute a $14-billion industry in Canada. More major professional sports leagues have realized gambling can become a source of incremental revenue and dramatically boost fan engagement.

"I think with COVID, you can see the need provincially for needed funds," Waugh said. "I know B.C., Ontario and Quebec are chomping and I think within a week of passing they could be up and doing single-event betting.

"Take (Thursday night) Montreal and Toronto (in the NHL), how much do you think would've been bet down East between those two storied franchises?"

The prospect of single-game sports wagering being on the horizon in Canada has prompted suggestions that it could provide a lifeline for a cash-strapped CFL. The league didn't play last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a source has told The Canadian Press that cost the nine-team circuit between $60-and-$80 million. The source was granted anonymity because the CFL hasn't released financial figures for 2020.

Earlier this week, a report suggested legalized single-game sports betting in Canada could net each CFL team between $1.5 million and $2 million.

"Those numbers seem very high . . . I thought $5 million (for the entire CFL) was a good number," he said. "This one of the few areas left in sport today that they can grow the revenue side on."

Legalized sports-betting in Canada would give the CFL the opportunity to sign sponsorship deals with gambling operators. It could also benefit financially from selling official league data to organizations looking to establish betting odds.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press