Canada’s Single-Event Gambling Bill Passes Final Senate Vote

Written By Robyn McNeil on June 22, 2021 - Last Updated on June 29, 2022
Angles view of Parliament House at Sunset with a background of pink clouds and blue skies.

After nearly a decade and numerous attempts, Canadian bettors will have the right to wager on single sporting events.

Today, Bill C-218, which amends the Criminal Code to allow single-event bets, passed its third reading in the Senate. The bill, passed with a vote of 57-20, was first introduced by Conservative Member Kevin Waugh in February 2020. There were five abstentions. The last step needed to fully legalize single-event sports betting in Canada is Royal Assent.

Earlier in its journey to becoming law, C-218 was amended by the House to include protections for Canada’s horse racing industry. However, additional amendments, including language to protect Indigenous rights, were voted down.

Canadian sports betting enthusiasts rejoice

Needless to say, a lot of folks will celebrate today’s Senate outcome.  

Recently, John Levy, CEO of Score Media and Gaming (theScore), offered his take on the possibility of legalization.

“I’m kind of pinching myself because it’s so exciting.” 

Made during his day two opening keynote of the recent Canadian Gaming Summit, Levy’s comments will be echoed by many. He had more to say in the conversation with Mark Silver of The Parleh and Nic Sulsky (PointsBet Canada).

“We’re all sitting here with our fingers crossed,” said Levy about Bill C-218’s final push in the Senate. 

“It may get all the way through. It might get processed… it may get pushed to next week, but it’s happening… we’re all very excited about that.”

Levy was right. The bill did get pushed. But today, nearly two weeks later, it went all the way. 

Gambling bill faces vigorous debate

Debate at the third reading of Bill C-218 kicked off with Senator David Wells (Newfoundland), the bill’s Senate sponsor. 

Wells began with a summary of the benefits legalizing sports betting could offer Canadians, including consumer protections and tax dollars. Redirecting gambling proceeds away from the black market also figured prominently in his introduction. However, Wells downplayed concerns regarding match-fixing and the bill’s threat to Indigenous rights.

Senator Vernon White (Ontario) brought match-fixing back into focus with an amendment proposed to address the issue. However, during the debate, Senator Brent Cotter (Saskatchewan) argued the amendment that would make cheating illegal and unnecessary.

The Criminal Code, including the fraud provisions in cheating at play, are more than adequate to handle the range of match-fixing strategies that might occur,” said Cotter.

In the end, though, White’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 24-38, with ten abstentions.

However, Senator Mary Jane McCallum (Manitoba) introduced another amendment before the Senate adjourned for the night. 

The language in McCallum’s amendment, aimed to protect the Aboriginal rights of Indigenous communities,  was provided by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke (MCK). MCK is particularly concerned about the impacts of C-218 on Kahnawà:ke’s existing gaming industry.

Without an accommodation in Bill C-218, there will be no “level playing field,” said Senator McCallum. “Provincial lotteries will be given free rein to occupy the field, to the exclusion of Kahnawà:ke.”

“There are those who have suggested that Kahnawà:ke, “just keep doing what they have been doing for 25 years,” added McCallum. “This suggestion is cynical and disingenuous. Kahnawà:ke has laboured under the cloud of those who have suggested that they have no jurisdiction over gaming. And, that their gaming operations are ‘illegal.’”

Due to the late hour, Senate suspended the debate and followed the vote until the next sitting.

The home stretch

Bill C-218’s second day of debate got underway yesterday with an impassioned speech by Senator Marilou McPhedran (Manitoba). McPhedran urged fellow Senators to vote ‘yes’ on Senator McCallum’s amendment on National Indigenous Peoples Day.

If ever there was a single day when we can be attentive to the sovereignty of First Nations, it would be today.” 

McPhedran closed her time with an appeal to Senate colleagues.

I urge you to vote in favour of this amendment,” she said. “It is the right thing to do. If it requires the bill to return to the other place, so be it. We’re beholden to the responsibility to provide sober second thought, not to the gaming calendar of the day.”

McPhedran was followed by Senator White, this time speaking in support of Senator McCallum’s amendment. The last to speak before the amendment’s vote was Senator Cotter, who argued against the addition. Again, the amendment was defeated by 21-43, with thirteen abstentions.

The longest yard

Debate on the bill resumed again after McCallum’s amendment was defeated with a final speech by Senator Gwen Boniface (Ontario). Concerned with the quality of inquiry C-218 faced so far, Boniface shared an inability to vote ‘yes’ on the bill.

“I am not opposed to single-sports betting itself,” she said. “I commend the work of MP Kevin Waugh, the sponsor of this legislation. I also want to thank Senators Wells and Cotter for their contributions here in the Senate. However, in my view, unfortunately, not enough deliberation has occurred for me to feel comfortable voting in favour of this bill.”

Senator Boniface capped off her statement with a call to action.

“I am unmoved by an argument that revolves around, “It’s already being done in the shadows, so we might as well bring it into the light.” Colleagues, if we’re going to bring it into the light, let’s do it with our eyes open.” 

At this point, Senate appeared ready to vote. However, Senator Donald Plett (Ontario) motioned to defer the vote until the Senate’s next sitting (today).

While the outcome of today’s vote will be a sore spot for some, for others, it must feel like winning.

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Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor. She lives in Halifax in an empty nest with a mischievous cat and a penchant for good stories, strong tea, cheeseburgers, yoga, graveyards, hammocks, gardening, games, herb, and hoppy beer.

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