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Opinion: A month ago, Canada made the bet of a century. How will it play out?

A re-evaluation of single-game sports betting
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JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY
JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY

On June 29, the Canadian federal government passed Bill C-218, thereby legalizing single-game sports betting. Single-game sports betting essentially means placing a bet on the outcome of a single sporting event, such as a basketball game or a tennis match. 

This specific type of betting had been banned in Canada for a century under the Canadian Criminal Code in order to avoid match fixing. Its sudden resurgence begs the question: was banning sports betting a bad idea in the first place? Or is the federal government now placing a bet with time, money, and community well-being on the line?

Single-game sports betting has been illegal in Canada since the Criminal Code was enacted in 1892. Prior to Bill C-218, in order to place bets on sporting events, you had to bet on the outcome of at least two games and get all of your predictions correct in order to win — also known as a parlay.

However, over time, closing the door on single-game sports betting has opened a door full of other opportunities. While Canadians couldn’t bet on single games domestically, illegal and offshore methods were still on the table. That means anytime you were to bet on the Blue Jays, the Raptors, or the Leafs — my condolences if you bet on the Leafs — you were doing so illegally. 

Recently, the Canadian Gaming Society reported that Canadians spend $14 billion a year betting on offshore sites. That number proves that there has always been a verifiable interest in single-game sports betting — there has just not always been a legal way to do it. 

While C-218 was passed in June, the law only came into effect on August 27. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission (OLG) moved quickly to regulate the industry — their online sports betting platform, PROLINE+, is currently the only legal online sports betting app in Ontario. 

On September 1, the OLG announced that it processed $1 million in bets after less than a week of operation. According to OLG’s website, almost 75 per cent of wagers accepted on Tuesday were on single games. The unprecedented participation is positive for the Canadian economy and Canadians’ well-being, because all the proceeds from PROLINE+ go toward provincial priorities that improve life for all Ontarians. 

The OLG also has a Playsmart program that educates its users about safe gambling. The commission has taken a pastime that is usually frowned upon and has indirectly used it to better the quality of life of many Canadians, whether through the excitement of winning a bet or by improving community living. 

Moreover, sports betting has the chance of increasing the popularity of our national sports as well. Sports betting journalist Geoff Zochodne explained on Sportsnet that the Canadian Football League (CFL) could benefit greatly from the addition of single-game sports betting in terms of fan interest and revenue. With regard to the CFL’s popularity, the CFL averaged around 155,000 viewers per game in 2019, while the rival NFL had about 16.5 million in the same year. If sports betting could provide a little boost to the CFL’s popularity, it would be great for fans, Canadian athletes, and coaches alike. 

Even with these promising results, the risks of gambling are still as clear as ever. The Canadian Community Health Survey revealed that two per cent of Canadian citizens 15 years or older have gambling problems. While this number might seem relatively low, it’s the fear that it will increase that’s concerning.

When it comes to sports betting, one could say that we are rolling the dice and hoping for the best outcome. However, given this latest news from OLG, the odds might be in our favour.