During my remarks, I will be highlighting the concerns I have with the proposed reforms. The government will be opposing the bill.
As Canadian law now stands, single-event sports betting is illegal. However, provinces and territories may offer another type of sports betting, known as parlay betting, to their residents. Parlay betting requires the bettor to correctly predict the outcome for a number of games in order to win. Parlay betting offers bettors an opportunity to participate in a legal and provincially or territorially controlled betting environment.
Single-event sports betting involves betting on the outcome of one single game, such as a game in the Stanley Cup finals. This private member's bill proposes to repeal paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code, which prohibits betting on a single sporting event. If enacted, the amendment would allow a province or territory to offer this type of betting, if it chose to do so.
In Canada, provinces are responsible for operating, licensing, and regulating most legal forms of lottery schemes. Each province determines the types, amount, and location of this kind of gambling activity within the province. If single-event sports betting were permitted, each province would be left to determine how to implement this reform.
There are a whole host of issues that need to be considered when looking at legislative changes to the gambling provisions in the Criminal Code. The impact of Bill C-221 on issues such as match-fixing and problem gaming would be best examined in conjunction with provinces and territories, which would be responsible for single-event sports betting.
The amendment proposed in Bill C-221 may be familiar to many parliamentarians because the same reform was proposed in former private member's Bill C-290 and before that in former private member's Bill C-627, both of which were sponsored by Joe Comartin, the former member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
During debate and committee study of Bill C-290 in the Senate, senators and witnesses raised concerns with regard to the proposed reform. For example, the Senate Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights considered Bill C-290 in 2011, and it heard that the NCAA, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and the Toronto Blue Jays, on behalf of Major League Baseball, were all against this proposed reform.
The major concern for these leagues was that the proposed reform could affect the integrity of their games. The government shares these same concerns.
It is possible, as suggested by many sports leagues, that legalizing single-event sports betting could encourage gamblers to fix games, especially in areas where players do not earn a lot of money and may be more susceptible to bribes. The current parlay system of betting makes it unattractive to fix a game, because the only way to achieve a guaranteed payout would be to rig multiple events, which would be much more difficult to accomplish. Single-event sports betting would make a fraudster's task easier, since only one event would need to be fixed.
I believe it is very important to ensure that the integrity of the game is sedulously fostered, and I believe that we should oppose legislation that may significantly affect this integrity.
One of the sponsor's stated objectives is to stimulate the economy and to bring American consumers to Canada. The provinces and territories would stand to gain economic benefits from the proposed reform, but the question arises: at what cost and, specifically, at what social cost?
Studies suggest that 3% to 5% of Canadians are at risk for problem gambling, and 30% to 40% of gambling revenues come from that small percentage. In 2011, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto filed a letter with the Senate committee studying the former Bill C-290 and indicated that the empirical evidence in the field demonstrated that an increase in legal gambling opportunities could lead to an increase in problem gambling. The letter indicated a concern for sports betting in particular.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reported an Ontario study that found that people with incomes of less than $20,000 per year were the least likely to gamble. However when they did, they were more likely to experience problems than those in higher income brackets.
These statistics indicate that the cohort of Canadians in the lower income bracket who gamble are the most vulnerable for experiencing problem gambling issues.
As well, individuals who live at or below the poverty line have little or no disposable income to spend on gambling. The amount spent on gambling takes a bigger bite out of their monthly budget. For someone making $20,000, spending even $1,000 a year on gambling is a very significant percentage of their disposable income.
Opposing this bill means protecting our most vulnerable citizens.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also demonstrated that people, now patrons of illegal bookmakers, would likely continue to do so because of easy access to credit, convenience, and better odds.
The suggestion that this reform would be funnelling money away from organized crime and redirecting it into provincial coffers is clearly not strong enough to rationalize supporting the bill. In short, this proposed reform would bring about more gambling and would contribute to the many ills in society brought about by problem gambling.
While I appreciate that many would see these changes as a welcome way to stimulate the economy and to fund provincial activities, I do not believe that it should be supported. As such, I would ask members to join me in opposing this private member's bill.