Provinces to lose millions in Super Bowl thanks to stalled betting bill
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Cash-strapped provinces will lose millions to foreign gambling websites and criminals in Sunday’s Super Bowl because the Senate is stalling legislative changes passed by the Commons.
Almost three years after NDP MP Joe Comartin’s private member’s bill to allow one-game betting on sports sailed through the House with support of members of all parties, the measure remains mired in the Red Chamber.
With a federal election later this year, there are concerns his law will die in the unelected Senate, meaning the estimated $10-billion a year sports gambling industry will continue to thrive underground and abroad.
“The only people profiting from illegal sports betting are criminals and offshore operators who are not licensed and regulated to do business in Canada,” Bill Rutsey, president of the Canadian Gaming Association, said Tuesday.
Rutsey estimated about $150 million will be illegally wagered in Canada on the NFL championship game this weekend.
“We have an option on the table and it’s called Bill C-290,” he said.
That’s the legislation Comartin, the Windsor-Tecumseh MP, successfully pushed through the Commons on March 2, 2012.
Striving to help his beleaguered border city attract American visitors, the New Democrat proposed amending the Criminal Code to allow one-game betting on football, hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball and other sports.
It would help Ontario casinos in Niagara Falls and Windsor open Las Vegas-style “sports books” to attract gamblers wanting to wager on single matches instead of just the existing Pro-Line that require bets on a minimum of three games simultaneously.
A 2011 study commissioned by the Canadian Gaming Association concluded such “books” would create 150 jobs in Windsor and 100 in Niagara Falls.
Jobs and a thirst for increased revenues are why Queen’s Park, which is saddled with a $12.5-billion deficit this year, has urged the Criminal Code change since 2008.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation said it would help casinos suffering from U.S. border headaches, anti-smoking policies, a prohibition on free drinks for gamblers, and, until recently, a high Canadian dollar.
But in the most recent Senate debate on the matter, Sen. George Baker last fall said “this bill is perhaps a problem bill for all senators.”
“I believe there is a good chance this will be the first time in Canadian history that a bill passed unanimously in the House of Commons could be defeated in the Senate,” Baker said Oct. 7.
“If this were a government bill, it would carry more weight than if it were a private member’s bill. That’s understood. You don’t defeat government legislation,” he said.
But Baker noted some MPs have asked senators to “defeat this bill because we didn’t have a chance to vote on it” as it was rushed through the Commons on a Friday with a mere voice vote.
Further complicating matters is that Comartin has since become Commons deputy speaker and under Parliament’s procedural rules the Senate cannot amend his bill to address senators’ concerns.
But in June, Sen. Bob Runciman, a former Ontario solicitor general mindful that the province needs gaming revenue, said senators shouldn’t “thwart the will” of elected MPs.
“Sports betting is already legal and widely practiced in Canada. There is no moral distinction between what is already permitted and what is likely to occur if Bill C-290 becomes law,” said Runciman, noting the provincial government spends $50 million “on education, research and treatment of problem gambling.”
“Some will say that’s a drop in the bucket, but it is $50 million more than organized crime or offshore gambling website operators are spending on problem gambling.”