Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-218.
I had the privilege of listening to my colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood when the bill was introduced and during the first round of speeches. I found his remarks very informative. I am taking the opportunity to speak today, but I do not pretend in any way that I will be able to teach the House as much he did.
Bill C-218 is actually quite simple. It consists of three clauses: one for the title of the act, one for its coming into force and one that proposes to replace a Criminal Code paragraph that currently excludes, from the definition of lottery, “bookmaking, pool selling or the making or recording of bets, including bets made through the agency of a pool or pari-mutuel system, on any race or fight, or on a single sporting event or athletic contest”. This would in effect decriminalize what is known as single event betting, which usually involves sporting events.
This bill kind of reminds me of a cat, not because it winds up sleeping on a shelf like a cat, which is what sometimes happens to certain committee recommendations that certain governments shelve, but because it has had several lives, as some of my colleagues mentioned earlier.
During the 40th Parliament, NDP MP Joe Comartin's Bill C-267 was never called for debate, unfortunately. During the 41st Parliament, NDP MP Joe Comartin once again introduced the bill, this time as Bill C-290, and it progressed a little farther and was passed at third reading without a recorded division. Back then, the current member for Winnipeg North spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party. Bill C-290 then died in the Senate.
During the 42nd Parliament, the NDP member for Windsor West introduced the bill. Unfortunately, it was defeated at second reading by Liberal and Conservative votes. The Bloc Québécois, on the other hand, voted unanimously in favour of the bill.
At the time, one of the arguments for killing this bill was that decriminalizing single sports betting might lead to cheating. That is like saying that leaving sports betting in the hands of organized crime would ensure that cheating does not happen. It is a weak argument, to say the least. Criminalizing something does not make it disappear. It just drives it underground. That is why this bill seeks to take sports betting out of the hands of organized crime.
In the 43rd Parliament, that version of the bill was passed at second reading with only 15 votes against it. Given that the government has introduced Bill C-13, which is substantively similar to this bill, we can expect Bill C-218 to make it to the Senate this time.
There are several advantages to decriminalizing single sports betting. One is that it would protect gamblers. Allowing the mafia to control sports betting opens the door to things like loansharking.
I will echo my colleagues who mentioned the case of the young man in Laval who ended his life in December 2019. He was only 18. The coroner's inquest showed that the man's suicide was tied to an $80,000 debt that he racked up on the Internet, on a gambling site that was run by the Montreal mafia.
According to an article written at the time, the young man gambled online. To access the site, users entered their name and password on the homepage, at which point they could bet on the results of all sorts of professional sporting events, and even on the results of the U.S. presidential election.
According to our research, the name of the site is registered to a corporation in Panama. This site has been hosted on a server in Costa Rica since March 2015 but did not become active until a year later. Using network management tool MyIP.ms, we can see that the corporation that owns the server hosts roughly 75 other online gambling sites. The site ranks 58th in number of visitors with roughly 200 daily visitors. We learned that the Montreal mafia's sports betting was run by a manager and working under him is an assistant and some bookies, in other words, recruiters. The bookies are responsible for the gamblers they recruit. The interest rate for paying off debt climbs by 3% to 5% per week. We are talking about mafia control and loan sharking. In this case, we are talking about people who lost their home because of online sports betting. What is more, there is no way to protect minors, who can easily access these sites.
If the ownership of these sites could be publicly disclosed, particularly by Crown corporations like Loto-Québec, it would mean that we could also expect more money to be injected into the fight against pathological gambling. Crown corporations also contribute in other ways. They give back to society. For example, Loto-Québec sponsors many events, owns and acquires public assets, and funds cultural events. Society will therefore benefit if we take sports betting out of the hands of organized crime.
Another advantage is that we would be be taking money away from organized crime. During an investigation conducted in Quebec as part of Operation Colisée, an expert estimated that, between December 2004 and December 2005, the Rizzuto clan took in approximately $27 million a year from illegal sports betting. We can expect that amount to be even higher now. By taking this revenue away from organized crime, we would be preventing criminals from diversifying their operations. For example, after a major drug seizure, organized crime can turn to illegal betting to survive. By cutting off this source of income, we are hurting organized crime.
Another advantage that my colleagues have mentioned is that governments could see an increase in revenue from decriminalizing single sports betting. Deloitte has pointed out that within five years of decriminalization, Canada's revenues could go from $500 million to as much as $28 billion, which is a handsome sum.
In the U.S., the industry grew after our neighbours to the south legalized it in response to Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. More than 25 U.S. states now allow sports betting.
Decriminalization could lead to competition. For example, the casinos in Detroit, Michigan, would be in direct competition with those in the riding of the member for Windsor West. Quebec would be no exception, since New York state has legalized sports betting. Gambling establishments in Plattsburgh, which is less than 90 minutes from the U.S. border, could end up competing with Loto-Québec once the border reopens.
In conclusion, beyond all these advantages, we must not forget the gamblers themselves. In talking with my colleagues, I realize that there is interest in sports betting. Many of my colleagues would very likely be happy to be able to make bets legally, if they could do so without contributing to companies that send their income to tax havens without paying tax. Lastly, they could place bets using French-language platforms.
For all these good reasons, the Bloc Québécois will be pleased to support Bill C-218. We hope that this time, the cat will not have to use up its nine lives.