Canada is a sports-mad nation. Recent surveys conducted by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute indicate that 25% of Canadians aged 18 years or older participate in sport. Many more than this watch sport regularly, as evidenced by figures reported during the Leafs vs. Canadiens play-off series back in June: Game seven was the most-watched single-night broadcast in Canada and the round one series coverage overall reached 19.4 million Canadians (52% of the population).
One thing that goes hand-in-hand with sports in many countries is betting. In many jurisdictions in Europe, such as the UK, France, and Spain, sports betting has been legalized and regulated for a long time and private operators have been free to respond to the increasingly digital habits of many consumers with the creation of online betting platforms.
In Canada, a similar regulatory framework is only just beginning to emerge. The passing of Private Members Bill C-218 in 2021 made single event sports betting legal for the first time in Canada and, perhaps more importantly, private gambling operators and betting sites are now able to apply for licenses to take bets in Canada.
For experienced sports bettors in Canada, the implementation of these new regulations in August 2021 may not have changed too much on the surface. For a long while, overseas operators with licenses in European jurisdictions like Malta have been able to offer their services to Canadians and there have been no prosecutions of customers using these services, making this ‘grey market’ a popular option.
One clear argument in favour of opening up and regulating the market in Canada is the amount of tax revenue that the government will miss out on if Canadians continue to use overseas operators. Tax receipts on licensed gambling activity in the UK, for example, are worth several billion pounds to HMRC annually.
Ontario’s state-owned online sportsbook, Proline+, launched in late August following the passing of the federal bill C-218. It reported taking more than $6 million of bets in its first month of operation. The appetite is clearly there, and it is not a huge stretch to imagine billions of dollars of taxable revenue being generated by regulated Canadian operators in the coming years, should regulation continue apace.
For the benefit of the general public, increases in tax revenue can be used in part to address any negative outcomes of the increased choice now available to Canadian sports bettors. Canada could look toward other more mature, established markets to identify such areas of concern and pre-empt their emergence in Canada.
For example, one subject that gets constant media attention in the UK is the prevalence of betting company sponsorships of elite soccer teams and gambling adverts during live sports broadcasts. The main jersey sponsor for almost half of the current 20 Premier League teams is a betting company, and all but one of the 20 teams have some form of commercial partnership with a betting company. The UK government is belatedly moving to address this oversaturation of gambling logos in British soccer, with outlawing shirt sponsorships being one potential outcome of an ongoing review into UK gambling laws.
So, while regulation and legalization of sports betting can create great opportunities for Canada, the relevant regulatory bodies should be vigilant to ensure these developments create a strong net positive return for Canadian society.