Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-221, an act to amend the Criminal Code on sports betting, put forward by my colleague, the MP for Windsor West.
Before I start, I would like to say a few things about the MP for Windsor West.
I cannot think of a better champion for his or her community than that MP, the dean of the NDP caucus. Not only is he a voice of reason in our party and in the House, but he is also a tireless defender of his community. This bill shows he has a deep understanding of how his region works, the needs of his region, and is prepared to put forward positive ideas and proposals to make the local economy better.
This bill, in brief, proposes to modernize the Criminal Code to allow provinces to regulate single-event sports betting. In doing so, the member argues, in putting his bill forward, that it would add economic benefit to not just his community, but many Canadian communities, and reduce the influence of organized crime.
I will speak a bit about those two points. I am supporting the bill for a different reason, which I will share shortly.
Bill C-221 would amend the Criminal Code by deleting a section in it which explicitly prohibits provinces from allowing wagering “...on any race or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest”. The bill would allow for wagering on the outcome of a single sporting event, and many Canadians are probably confused that we do not already have this. This is a throwback law that has been in place for a long time, and in a lot of people's views, unnecessarily.
There has been a shift in how betting laws are regulated in Canada. The federal government has decentralized a lot of this control to the provinces over the years. Provinces are currently responsible for operating, licensing, and regulating all legal forms of gambling, including the lottery schemes. This is really because each region, each province, has individual needs and, of course, different cultures for gambling and related events.
Perhaps there are different views among the populations that have to be reflected in provincial laws, which makes sense. It is not as if we do not have unregulated betting at all. It is handled by the provinces.
There was too much regulation at one point, and now we are kind of reaching a point that we have decided that the provinces will take care of all of this. Therefore, each province determines the type, amount, and location of gaming activity that is available in their jurisdiction, which seems right to me.
Since 1985, gaming facilities have been established in most provinces, offering a diverse range of options, including slot and video machines, card games, and games of chance such as Roulette and Craps. In greater Vancouver, we have seen a kind of flourishing of the gaming industry, but a moderate flourishing. When this started, a lot of people thought it would be a very bad and intrusive industry that would change the very nature of our communities. However, it does not seem to have had that impact, although it has had both positive and negative impacts.
The key is that at least it is regulated now. At least the provincial governments get a significant amount of revenue from these industries. Not only provincial governments but municipalities and charities also receive a significant benefit from gambling.
Gaming is one of the oldest activities in the world. It is proper to regulate it, again, much like marijuana. It is something that happens, and government involvement is important. Also, it would lead us to recover some of the revenue so we could help support things like addiction services and counselling when people have trouble with these activities.
Oversight in this industry has been decentralized to the provinces, but the Criminal Code still applies to some aspects of the gaming industry, including single-event sports betting. Therefore, if this proposed law were in place and single-event sports wagering were permitted, each province would determine how and if it would be implemented.
It is not like passing this law would all of a sudden open up single sports betting right across Canada. It would still be up to the provinces to decide if they were going to allow it and what the laws would look like in each province.
The public is not losing control of this industry or oversight of this industry, it is just being decentralized to the provinces, who, I would say, are in better shape to make decisions about those more localized communities.
We heard some arguments today about the economics of this industry. Gaming is an important contributor to the Canadian economy. It is the largest segment of the entertainment industry, and supports more than 128,000 full-time jobs, with another 283,000 indirect jobs. It generates almost $9 billion in revenue for government and community programs. It is nothing to sneeze at, and it is something to take very seriously.
I am glad my colleague from Windsor West has brought the bill forward. It allows us to have these kinds of debates. Again, it puts pressure on the government to consider if, indeed, we are regulating this industry in the correct way.
The reason why single-event sports betting is important is that it would give the Canadian gaming industry an edge over the American gaming industry. In British Columbia, where I am from, although there are local casinos, most people talk about going to Las Vegas. Lots of British Columbians fly to Las Vegas to bet down there. One reason is single-event sports betting, which is allowed in Las Vegas but not in British Columbia.
One could imagine the reverse flow of residents and gamers if this were allowed in British Columbia, starting here with this law and then regulation by the province. It would reverse the flow of that money. That is an important consideration. We all know we are in tough economic times. This would be important.
Now in Vancouver, with a fairly robust economy, maybe this would not make a huge difference, but in some communities along the border, this would make a difference, especially from what I am hearing from my colleagues in Windsor. No other states have legalized single-event gaming operations, so this would give Canadian gamers an edge. My colleagues have said it very well, that this is occurring. These betting activities are occurring, but mainly illegally in Canada. What this allows us to do is capture the revenue that we are losing.
Again, the government has made the same claims about legalizing marijuana, saying that when it is an illegal substance it is only dealt with in an illegal way and all the profits remain in the hands of organized crime. That is why they are arguing they should legalize marijuana. It would allow the government to regulate and capture this revenue. The same case could be made for single-event sports betting.
We have heard opposition from the other side, and we have heard a number of Liberals say that they are not going to support the bill. They have in the past, and I am hoping that they again reflect on what they are denying Canadians by voting against the bill.
In terms of organized crime and the effects of organized crime in this area, illegal sports wagering includes both illegal bookmakers and illegal Internet betting companies operating in North America. It is hard to estimate the size of black markets, but according to the American Gaming Association, Americans spent almost $140 billion on illegal betting last year. In Canada it is harder to get a sense of what illegal gambling brings in, but it is estimated that it is between $14 billion and $15 billion, only on single-event sports betting.
One can imagine the amount, if this entire industry were regulated, in two ways: first, if we were able to capture revenue on the $14 billion to $15 billion, and second, if we were able to attract some of the American betters.
I am not a huge fan of gambling. It may seem strange to say that after this speech but I have talked to my constituents. I opposed a mixed martial arts bill that came from the Senate in the last session. However, I voted for it because my constituency told me loud and clear that this was what they wanted. The same applies to this bill. I have talked to a number of people in my constituency, elected officials and local residents. They have said they want me to support the bill, and that is what I am doing.
I am standing up today to support my colleague from Windsor West and his private member's bill. I hope everyone here in the House will as well.