John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY
Whew, what a year it’s been for Canada‘s sports betting industry.
On Saturday, It’ll be the one-year anniversary of the decriminalization of single-game sports wagering in Canada. Bill C-218, known as the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act, was enacted on Aug. 27, 2021, allowing Canadians to bet on individual games, or outcomes, in a regulated environment.
Canada has a long, complicated history with sports wagering, but the passing of Bill C-218 was without a doubt a gamechanger for bettors across the country.
Let’s take a brief look back at Canada’s sports betting journey.
Gambling activities in Canada went unregulated until 1892, when the federal government developed and passed the Criminal Code of Canada, which banned all gambling activities except for horse wagering and games at small midways, or carnivals, across the country.
In 1969, the Criminal Code was tweaked by the federal government to allow small-stakes gambling on behalf of charities. This development later led to the passing of Bill C-150, which gave the provincial and federal governments the opportunity to use lotteries to fund specific activities, such as the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal.
In 1985, another amendment to the Criminal Code gave provinces the exclusive authority to conduct and manage lotteries and lottery schemes, including games conducted via a computer, video device, or slot machine.
This amendment also gave provincial lotteries the opportunity to offer parlay markets for popular North American sports events, like hockey, basketball, baseball, and football. At this time, moneyline wagering was the only option available and each parlay required at least three legs.
In 1992, provincial governments debuted the parlay betting product PROLINE, and other similar sports lottery products, at retail locations to offer an alternative to illegal bookmaking in the country.
With the rise in popularity of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, several independent gray market operators from around the world, in places like Costa Rica, Gibraltar, and Isle of Man, began taking bets from Canadian customers, who were exposed to a wide array of markets, higher bet limits, and bonuses for the first time.
Legislators drafted a number of bills to legalize single-event sports betting and attempt to begin taxing the revenue domestically, which eventually led to Bill C-290 getting passed in the House of Commons in 2012. However, the bill was voted down in the Senate in 2015, and a second attempt was also squashed in 2016.
Online sports wagering continued to gain momentum in Canada in the coming years, with estimates that roughly $14 billion (CAD) was being gambled illegally each year.
On Feb. 25, 2020, Conservative Member of Parliament Kevin Waugh introduced Bill C-218, intended to legalize single-game wagering in Canada and give the provinces the authority to conduct and manage the regulation of the industry. Conservative Senator David Wells later sponsored the bill in the Senate, ultimately leading to the decriminalization of single-game wagering, effective Aug. 27, 2021.
Well done Senator! https://t.co/43fWNErUk7
— Kevin Waugh (@KevinWaugh_CPC) August 27, 2021
The bill was widely supported by all four of Canada’s major political parties and passed its second reading on Feb. 17, 2021, by an overwhelming vote of 303-15. The bill also had the support of many professional sports leagues, such as the Canadian Football League, NFL, and NBA.
At this time, sports betting was also becoming more mainstream and socially acceptable across North America, with many jurisdictions in the United States regulating their respective markets. It was clear that the perception of sports betting was changing.
Ontario was among the first provinces to offer single-event sports betting on Aug. 27, 2021, when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) debuted its new PROLINE+ digital sportsbook. PROLINE’s retail product was also quickly revamped to accommodate the new legislation.
OLG announced it handled more than $1 million (CAD) over the first five days of legal single-event sports betting across Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, with roughly 15 million inhabitants. Nearly 75% of all wagers placed at the PROLINE + sportsbook were of the single-event variety during that span.
In November, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation announced that bettors in the province had placed more than $25 million in single-game wagers on its PlayNow platform in the first two months following single-game betting legalization.
After the successful launches of the provincially run online sportsbooks, industry stakeholders quickly shifted gears to opening an expanded regulated iGaming and sports betting market in Ontario. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) opened the registration period for iGaming operators in September and initially targeted a December launch for the market with private operators. A December launch was overly optimistic, though, as regulators pushed this timeline back to early 2022.
Leading up to Christmas 2021, two major developments were announced out of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority struck a historic revenue-sharing deal with its provincial government to launch a new online gaming site, with a focus on sports betting. It would later be announced, in July 2022, that BCLC would develop the online gaming site with plans for a November 2022 launch, just prior to the CFL’s Grey Cup festivities in the province.
SIGA announced today, along with other stakeholders, that they have officially signed a vendor agreement for BCLC to begin development on the Online Gaming site.https://t.co/x3kzW639I8…@casinoregina @casinomoosejaw @fsinations pic.twitter.com/qsUCLgGDTV
— SIGA (@HomeSIGA) June 6, 2022
Meanwhile, Alberta, not to be outdone, also announced in December that it would be accepting proposals from two private sports betting operators. Although Alberta was unwilling at this time to fully adopt an open model like Ontario, it had hoped to have sportsbooks up and running at the major professional sports venues across the province by the end of 2022 with the help of a pair of private operators. As of Tuesday, the winning vendors have not yet been named by local regulators, suggesting that timeline might not be met.
With anticipation building about the timeline for the launch of Ontario’s regulated market in 2022, regulators announced on Jan. 28 that April 4 would be the historic day for sports betting in the province. Operators were initially disappointed that the market wouldn’t be up and running in time for the Winter Olympic Games and Super Bowl in February, but an April launch would still come in time for the NBA and NHL playoffs as well as the start of the MLB season.
On Feb. 11, the province of Nova Scotia began offering single-event sports betting through the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC). The adoption of single-event sports wagering had been delayed in the province due to the election of a new provincial government.
On April 4, Ontario became the first province to allow private operators of online sportsbooks to launch. More than a dozen operators, including PointsBet, theScore Bet, FanDuel, BetMGM, Rush Street Interactive, Unibet, Coolbet, bet365, and Caesars, launched at various points throughout the inaugural day, finally giving sports bettors in the province fully legal betting markets.
Our live blog is being updated with the latest intel on the Ontario launch. Industry stakeholders celebrated at the TSX this morning. pic.twitter.com/iRmZwPcJ5Y
— gregwarrenBC (@GregwarrenBC) April 4, 2022
As of Tuesday, there are more than 35 online gaming sites live in the province, and that number could double before the end of 2022, according to regulators.
There’s also optimism that retail sportsbooks could launch in the province as early as September, just in time for the NFL season.
Regulators have not yet released the first revenue report for Ontario’s market, but some estimates presume it to be a $1 billion market for iGaming in its first year. That number could grow to $3 billion by 2026, making Ontario one of the largest markets in North America.
Greg is a sports editor who has previously worked for respected Canadian media outlets, including Rogers Sportsnet, theScore, and Covers Media Group. He’s covered sports in Canada for over a decade, specializing in NHL, NFL, CFL, MLB, and sports betting. In his spare time, he can be found attempting to break 90 on the golf course or cruising down the slopes at his local ski hill. You can reach Greg at [email protected].
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