Madam Speaker, I would echo the comments of my colleague who just spoke. I congratulate the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition for his thoughtful consideration of the matter, a matter that is important to Canadians.
We will be voting in support of this bill at second reading in order to send it to a parliamentary committee for further review and examination and to hear from witnesses.
Gambling in Canada is a properly-regulated activity governed by the Criminal Code that sets out the parameters for gaming. As has been previously stated in debate, up until 1985 the federal government was directly involved in running lotteries. It then devolved that through a provincial-federal agreement and the ensuing revenues went to the provinces. As a result, while the Canadian government maintains its legislative responsibility for criminal law, it is the responsibility of the provinces to licence and regulate all legal forms of gaming so long as the activities remain within the scope of the Criminal Code.
Betting on sports currently falls under paragraph 207(4)(b), which is the paragraph that is proposed to be amended by this private member's bill. It defines “lottery schemes” and explicitly prohibits provinces from allowing wagering on “any race or fight, single sports event or athletic contest”.
In reaction to this prohibition, provinces, through their provincial gaming corporations, have long offered parlayed-based wagering on sporting events. This allows for individuals to bet on the outcomes of three or more sporting events. We think of PRO-LINE, which is popular with millions of Canadians and allows them to wager on sports throughout the world, whether it is the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association or the one that is most popular in my house, the English premier football league.
These types of wagers allow individuals to choose the outcome of three or more sporting events, the odds of which are published in advance by the provincial gaming corporation. In order to win, a person must correctly predict all of the outcomes. For millions of Canadians, this is a fun activity. It allows them to be more involved in the sport they are watching or following.
Regulated gaming provides a legitimate and sanctioned activity free from tampering and has the effect of generating substantial revenues for governments.
Bill C-290 would delete the section from the Criminal Code that currently prohibits betting on a single sport and would allow provinces the ability to create a regulated environment consistent with their current gaming activities. For individuals, the change would allow them to bet on one match as opposed to three or more so long as the odds were predetermined and published.
It has been suggested by my colleague, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, that several provinces have a desire to see this specific change to the Criminal Code. As an example, two of them, Ontario and British Columbia, have taken the additional step of writing the federal justice minister.
Why support this change? There is a lot of illegal gambling in Canada. Some of it relates to betting on single sporting events. Millions of dollars are spent illegally on single sport gambling and much of this activity is conducted by organized crime and bookies. It is underground and it unregulated.
Technology is also playing a role in the new gaming reality. Members will not be surprised to know that the criminal world adapts very quickly to new technology, using the Internet to exploit and make money from illegal gaming. Illegal sports wagering is all too common throughout North America.
The full extent of this illegal gambling is unknown, but some reports suggest it is massive. I will cite a couple of them.
The United States National Gambling Impact Study Commission has stated that estimates of the scope of illegal sports betting in the United States range anywhere from $80 billion to $380 billion annually. We have heard these figures from the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
In Canada, a review of the annual reports of the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada suggests that “bookmaking exists in every region of Canada”. According to the report, gaming profits revenue to organized crime groups to fund their illegal and legal activities. It says:
While the size of the illegal bookmaking market in Canada is unknown, it is also thought to be significant. If the range of illegal sports betting in the United States is accurate, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the range in Canada is between $10.0 billion and $40.0 billion.
These figures underline the seriousness of this issue and the need for action.
Regulated gaming provides a legitimate way for Canadians to gamble and, to be frank, it is a significant source of revenue for governments. Illegal gambling means lost tax revenue that provinces might use to provide more and better service to their citizens.
One sensible measure to combat illegal gambling is to change the Criminal Code to allow the provinces to regulate betting on single sporting events. It would have the effect of legalizing what is a common practice and deprive organized crime of another revenue stream.
While single-game betting is currently illegal in most jurisdictions, it is a booming business in other parts of the world. Online gaming is regulated and legal in many countries and they are reaping the benefit from increased tax revenues and profits. The largest component of this online betting includes sports and horse racing.
I believe this bill helps get the discussion going by pointing to a significant reality in Canada; that is to say there are legal and illegal forms of gaming and we need to address the latter.
I realize, as well, that some Canadians and perhaps members here as well, have, for various reasons, an issue with gambling under any circumstances. For them, there are some reasonable concerns. Like many activities, there are dangers involved in gambling. We all know, or have heard stories, of people who have an addiction to gambling with consequences that are serious and profound. A gambling addiction can overtake one's life. It can result in job loss, a broken family and financial ruin and we need to be sensitive to those concerns. However, for the vast majority of Canadians gambling is a fun and harmless activity.
In my home province of Prince Edward Island, for example, one of the highlights of the summer is our famous Gold Cup and Saucer. The Gold Cup and Saucer is one of the premier harness-race events in the world and one that has attracted thousands of tourists over the years. It is a great spectator sport, a great tourist attraction and a source of economic activity that is important to the local economy of Charlottetown. Tom Mullally and his team at the Red Shores Racetrack & Casino have done a wonderful job in preserving and enhancing this great island tradition.
I will be supporting this bill at second reading and hope that all members will do the same. It is important that we might have the opportunity to call witnesses at the committee to better understand the issues related to gaming in Canada. We may also have the chance to hear from people who may have concerns about this legislation and it is important that we hear from all sides of this issue before we proceed. I am sure the mover of the bill would agree with this as well.