Canada Legalizes Single-Event Sports Betting As Bill C-218 Gets Queen’s Nod

Written By Robyn McNeil on June 30, 2021 - Last Updated on July 1, 2022
A deck of playing cards with red backs spread out with a single queen face up in the centre

It’s official. 

Single-event sports betting in Canada is legal. The change comes after Bill C-218 received Royal Assent in the House of Commons on June 29.

The legalization of single-event sports wagering in Canada is a long time coming. In-play for nearly a decade, two previous attempts to amend the Criminal Code in the House failed. But with the passing of Bill C-218, Canadians can now place single-event bets without skirting the law.

50 shades of grey

Single-event sports betting has been illegal in Canada since 1892

That year, the government banned all forms of gambling, except for horse racing. Later, in 1969, the government amended the Criminal Code to permit provinces to conduct and manage regional lotteries. 

An agreement that followed in 1979 disbanded Loto-Canada, a federal entity created to offset Quebec’s Olympic deficit.  In exchange, the provinces would pay 24 million Canadian dollars annually, increasing with inflation over time. Then, in 1985 after a scuffle over the Canadian Sports Pool Corporation, the government amended the law again. This time, the provinces agreed to pay CA$100m over three years for exclusive rights over lotteries in their respective jurisdictions. The money collected would be used to fund the Calgary Olympics.

Since the provinces took complete control in 1985, single-event wagers have been illegal under federal law. However, despite the illegality, the government has done little to stop Canadians from betting on black and grey markets. 

According to the Canadian Gaming Association, off-market gambling amounts to CA$14 billion a year. With only about CA$500 million moving through legal channels, there’s quite a divide. Besides increasing player protections and support, the hope is legalization will redirect some of that dough to provincial coffers.

The Queen? She wills it

While many consider Royal Assent a formality, it’s a necessary part of a bill becoming law.  

In Canada, our legislative process requires approval from all levels of Parliament: the Sovereign, the Senate, and the House. Royal Assent and the accompanying ceremony are the visible manifestations of the Sovereign sanctioning Parliament’s work.

Here, the ceremony accompanying the Queen’s nod stems from a British tradition in practice before Confederation.  

Royal Assent, traditionally, is only granted by a traditional ceremony in the Senate.  However, in June 2002, it was decided a written declaration could signify Assent. Still, the ceremony must occur at least twice a year.

But, during yesterday’s sitting, C-218 assented with a short message from Ian McCowan, Secretary to the Governor-General.

“I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, Administrator of the Government of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 29th day of June 2021, at 9:46 p.m.”

And the rest, as they say, will be history.

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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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