Pro Leagues Lobby Canada To Expand Sports Gambling

Posted on June 12, 2020

After decades of unease, it’s safe to say that professional sports leagues are fully on board with legalized sports gambling.

Michigan bettors can look to their neighbors to the north for evidence: Across the border, they’re pushing for it.

Commissioners of the five professional sports leagues operating in Canada sent a joint letter to the federal government urging “prompt action” for expanded sports gambling legislations.

Canadians can currently only bet through parlays at the provincial lotteries.

It’s a move that could impact Detroit casinos and the Michigan sports betting market in a profound way.

Sports leagues found time to address gambling

Professional sports are like most every economic sector, trying to mitigate the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on operations and revenue. Still, in the midst of unprecedented reorganization measures, the commissioners see the issue of sports gambling as important enough to address right now.

On June 8, a statement was sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with Canada’s most powerful politicians, pleading for single-event sports betting.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie of the Canadian Football League signed the statement along with Gary Bettman of the NHL, Don Garber of the MLS, Rob Manfred of the MLB and Adam Silver of the NBA.

Commissioners to politicians: Go, Canada!

According to the Windsor Star, the statement addressed “the integrity of sports,” a far cry from stances of the past.

The statement said:

“The National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the Canadian Football League support an amendment to Canada’s federal laws that would authorize provinces to offer betting on single sporting events.

“Sports betting gives fans another exciting way to engage with the sports they love. Because a legal and regulated sports betting market in Canada would be beneficial to sports and their fans, we urge prompt action to make this a reality.

“Sports betting already happens illegally in Canada; creating a legal framework would shift consumers from illicit, unregulated markets to a legal and safe marketplace. Regulating single-game betting would allow for strong consumer protections as well as safeguards to further protect the integrity of sports.”

What’s the status of sports betting in Canada?

Canada beat many US states to the punch in sports betting.

Across the Detroit River at Casino Windsor, bettors have been making parlay plays since 2006.

But for single-event betting, it’s been more of a drag.

The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act was introduced in Parliament in February.

Co-sponsor Kevin Waugh told the Windsor Star that he hopes the bill can pass this summer.

“This doesn’t need to go through the normal private members’ bill process,” Waugh said. “The government can do this with an order of council like they did with the new gun control laws a month ago. We’ll be putting pressure on the government to get this done before Parliament finishes June 17.”

Canada beat Michigan to sports betting

Caesars Windsor Hotel & Casino was the first game in town, opening as Casino Windsor in May 1994 as Ontario’s first casino. The Detroit casinos started opening in 1999.

The Windsor facility added sports betting in 2006. Detroit’s casinos added sportsbooks (with single-event betting) in March after Michigan sports betting was ratified in December.

However, Canada has a thriving offshore betting market. The Canadian Gaming Association estimates $14 billion is wagered every year offshore. However, just $500 million is wagered through regulated means.

Canadian casinos surround American borders

Caesars Windsor, which remains closed because of the pandemic, is visible from Detroit’s riverfront.

It’s also a factor in Detroit’s gambling revenues.

A 2018 workers’ strike at Caesars Windsor may have goosed revenue at Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino by a couple percentage points, according to the Windsor Star.

The competition is not just in Windsor either.

OLG Casino Point Edward is visible across the St. Clair River from Port Huron, MI. OLG Casino Sault Ste. Marie is a short drive across the bridge from an American casino in Sault Ste. Marie, one of the five Kewadin Casinos.

Legalized gambling has captured bad actors

Tim Otteman, who has studied sports point-shaving scandals, believes leagues should have been on the ball even sooner.

The Central Michigan University professor said every major American match fixing was discovered through irregularities in legal gambling channels.

Otteman warns though that legalized sports gambling could help bait more problem gamblers.

He also acknowledged that along with legalized gambling typically comes funding measures for responsible gambling education. Under Michigan’s expanded gambling laws, $1 million per year from sports betting and online gambling revenue will combat problem gambling through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s about having the ability to make sure that we educate folks about an activity that does have some potential side effects related to it,” Otteman said.

Pols believe Ohio legalization coming soon

Speaking of Michigan’s neighbors, Ohio could be on track to add sports gambling later this year.

There are competing bills with the state’s House favoring regulatory control for the Ohio Lottery Commission and the Senate siding with the Casino Control Commission.

The proposed tax rates straddle Michigan’s 8.4% sports gambling tax, while the beneficiary of tax money also needs to be finalized, with the House bill favoring education.

Still, bill sponsors told The Associated Press this week they expect a deal this year.

“Absolutely, we’ll be able to come to a resolution on this,” said Dave Greenspan, a Republican and a primary sponsor of the House bill. “We just haven’t had an opportunity to have a robust discussion with the Senate yet. We’ve got to get this done and up and operating.”

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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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