Some good news from North of the Border today as the Ontario provincial government made a pledge to establish a more competitive marketplace for gambling enthusiasts including sports bettors. As part of the 2019 Provincial budget the government expressed their intent to create a regulated and competitive market for online gambling that will “reflect consumer choice while protecting consumers”. This proposal could have significant impact as it could not only open up the current legal betting monopoly to competition and potentially usher in single game betting in Canada.
Currently, Canadian Federal law permits only multiple event sports betting such as parlays. There have been several attempts to modernize this archaic provision but so far little success. The Ontario government explicitly advocates for single event sports wagering complete with quotes from North American gambling experts. They also produced endorsements from some unlikely allies–several major professional sports leagues. For the Canadian market, the most significant of these is National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman who indicated that a single game betting scenario is in the best effort of players and the NHL:
“With two NHL franchises in Ontario and two right on the border with the US, Ontario is a very important market for the NHL. Accordingly, the NHL does not object to the Province of Ontario’s initiative to offer single event wagering when it is permitted.”
Also weighing in with a statement is National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver:
“Should the Federal Government permit betting on single sporting events, the NBA would support the Province of Ontario offering this form of betting, subject to appropriate safeguards. The NBA has agreements with multiple licensed international gaming companies that incorporate these safeguards and can help provide a roadmap for Ontario.”
You no doubt notice the key concept in both statements–the necessity of Federal government approval which could take several years. The budget didn’t go into much detail about the process of bringing about single game sports betting in Ontario but must experts concur that it would take an amendment to the country’s Criminal Code. Still, the province made clear that they had some heavy hitters behind the single game betting proposal. Also with statements in support of Ontario’s plans were Major League Soccer President Don Garber and Canadian Football League Commissioner Randy Ambrose.
Much of the impetus behind the single game betting and online competition proposals was the competitive reality of the industry. Unlike most US states, the Ontario government is aware that they are facing competition from gaming businesses in the United States as well as internationally based online betting sites. To their credit, they correctly realize that the only way to capture this business is to offer a better product. Other gaming related proposals were also included in the budget including upgrading and enhancing lottery terminals and expanding the retail network. In addition, the Ontario government will now allow casinos to advertise free alcohol.