When Will Sports Betting Be Legal in Canada?

Last May, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark decision by striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The decision effectively killed the United States’ federal ban on sports betting, which cleared the way for state legislatures to decide individually whether they wanted to legalize and regulate sports betting.

Since the decision, a number of states, including New Jersey, have opened betting on sports to the public. The industry is among the fastest-growing in the United States, and more states are expected to follow suit in the months and years ahead.

Meanwhile, the activity is still banned in Canada. That said, could the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court eventually help convince lawmakers to open their doors to sports betting in Canada, too? Back in March, the Toronto Sun reported that Ontario’s Finance Minister, Vic Fedeli, had sent a letter to Canada’s federal Finance Minister, Bill Morneau. In the letter, Fedeli asked Morneau to amend the country’s criminal code in order to legalize single-game sports betting in Ontario.

There is still no word on whether Morneau plans to act on Fedeli’s request, but the fact that the conversation of whether to legalize sports betting in Canada is happening is at least a step in the right direction.

Could sports betting become legal in Canada in the near future?

Current Canadian Sports Betting Situation

At present, a very limited amount of sports betting is permitted in Ontario, Canada’s largest province. The only platform available to bettors is called Pro-Line, which is a government-supported service that allows bettors to place bets on a minimum of 3 selections. Like a parlay bet, all 3 results have to be correct for the bet to win.

Fedeli reportedly stated in his letter that he is concerned that the increasing popularity of sports betting in the U.S. could mean that Canada will lose out on a potential revenue windfall. Fedeli stated that simply tweaking the law in Ontario alone would generate an additional $110 million in revenue on an annual basis, which would certainly benefit the government and citizens of the province.

Fedeli cited cities like Las Vegas that are notorious hotbeds for sports bettors. In the letter, he said, “Single event sports wagering is one of the fastest-growing categories of gambling entertainment. In fact, in a typical year, more than 90 percent of the sports dollars wagered in Nevada sportsbooks are on a single event bet.”

As it stands, Canadians are not permitted to place bets on a single event, such as the NFL’s Super Bowl or the CFL’s Grey Cup. Fedeli argues that Canada is potentially losing players that would be willing to bet in Canada to nearby states that have since planned to legalize it, such as New Jersey or Michigan.

Fedeli also stated that the fact that major professional sports leagues like the NBA and Major League Baseball have since come around on the idea of supporting the legalization of sports betting should serve as a reason for Canada to get with the times. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver offered his support by writing,

“The NBA would support the province of Ontario offering this form of betting, subject to appropriate safeguards.”

This is quite the turn considering it wasn’t long ago that the NBA was strongly opposed to all forms of gambling. Back when the Toronto Raptors joined the NBA in 1995, there was a condition that dictated that Raptors games were ineligible for the Pro-Line wagering service.

History of Sports Betting in Canada

Fedeli’s letter is just the latest call for the legalization of sports betting in Canada. In fact, some lawmakers have been trying to get the ball rolling on the issue since 2011. Unfortunately, little progress has been made over the years, but not for lack of effort.

The current laws are not equipped to deal with the growing number of players betting on sports or playing casino games online, which essentially leaves Canada in a grey area as far as regulation goes. In 2015, Ontario MP Brian Masse attempted to repeal a portion of the country’s criminal code that makes it illegal to bet on a single sporting event.

While Masse attempted to focus his efforts on consumer protection and the potential financial benefits legalization would bring to his region, those in opposition to the idea continued to cite the tired old concerns regarding potential game-fixing and the proliferation of gambling addiction among young people. As a result, the bill was eventually struck down by a 156-133 margin.

Following America’s Footsteps?

The renewed calls for gambling legalization in Canada coming on the heels of the aforementioned U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is no accident, of course. Legal sports betting is available across Europe, and the United States is hopeful that bringing the activity out of the shadows will ultimately prove beneficial for all involved.

Because Canada is at risk of losing huge amounts of money with prospective gamblers fleeing to the south, the time is now for the country to take the next step and finally step up to the plate on the issue. About 90 percent of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the American border, so it’s not exactly difficult for those wanting to gamble legally to do so.

The fact that the provincial legislature and federal parliament are not currently aligned politically may be a roadblock. Conservatives currently control the provincial portion of government, while liberals have control of parliament. This kind of alignment isn’t necessarily conducive to bold deals getting done.

That said, the wind seems to be blowing in the right direction on the issue, which means Canadians in support of legalized sports betting should be feeling more optimistic than they may have as recently as a few years ago.

Legalized sports betting will come to Canada at some point in the near future, especially as long as the industry continues to thrive and grow down in the United States.

Taylor Smith: Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, but he’s willing to take one for the team on that front every now and then.