Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to private member's bill, Bill C-221. After carefully considering the bill and reviewing the earlier debate on the subject, I want to advise the House that I cannot and will not be supporting it. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to authorize a province or territory to conduct betting on a single sporting event, which is sometimes called “head-to-head betting”. Bill C-221 would essentially replicate former Bill C-290 of the previous Parliament.
The bill would delete paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code, meaning that the current prohibition on provinces and territories against conducting single-event sports betting would be removed. Currently, section 207 of the Criminal Code authorizes provinces and territories to conduct betting on multiple sporting events, which is normally called “parlay betting”. The current gambling provisions in the Criminal Code criminalize all other forms of gambling, except those that are specifically authorized by the Criminal Code.
I understand that the provinces and territories would stand to gain a substantial increase in gambling revenues if Bill C-221 were to pass. For casinos that have proximity to a city in the United States that has no legal, single-event sports betting, there could be a strong market advantage. Canadian border cities with casinos might see some additional economic development benefits.
While I appreciate the economic advantages that the proposed reform could bring about, the big concern I have to share is the impact that this proposed change could have on individuals and families, the social costs of gaming.
I would like, now, to turn to the very important issue of gambling addiction.
The dangers involved with gambling addictions are serious and profound. Problem gambling is associated with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and suicide. It can also affect family and marital relationships, work and academic performance, loss of material possessions, and it can lead to bankruptcy and, certainly, crime.
Provinces and territories spend millions of dollars toward the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. They offer a variety of services and treatments that have been derived from many different methods of counselling and therapy to assist those who have a compulsive gambling problem, as well as family members of those who suffer from this problem.
Youth are particularly vulnerable to the problems arising from gambling. A 2014 study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, CAMH, in Toronto, found that 35% of students in grades 7 to 12 gambled at least once in the past year. Another study found that a quarter of Ontario students with gambling problems reported a suicide attempt in the past year, roughly 18 times higher than in the general population.
I believe that if Bill C-221 were to pass, the costs to the provinces and territories would inevitably increase. More important, the cost to individuals, families, and society would increase.
We must also consider the issue of illegal bookmaking. Illegal bookmakers enjoy a monopoly on single-event sports betting. Police report that bookmakers are connected to organized crime.
We know that numerous Canadians illegally bet on single-event games. In my view, even if Bill C-221 were to pass, the vast majority of those who bet with illegal bookmakers would continue to do so. This is because bookmakers extend their credit directly to the bettor, unlike the provinces and territories. Illegal bookmakers also have lower overhead costs and can offer more favourable betting odds. Bill C-221 would do nothing to change the attractions offered by illegal bookmakers.
Sports leagues are rightly concerned to ensure that there is no match fixing. Professional sports leagues previously have strongly opposed similar bills. They have argued that allowing single-game betting would open a Pandora's box of match fixing and social problems associated with gambling. The integrity of sport is critical to maintaining the interest, respect, and loyalty of sports fans.
In my view, while the sponsor's stated objectives are indeed laudable, the proposals would not achieve the desired objectives without doing significant harm to society and increasing the already high social costs of gambling. For that reason, I will not be supporting the bill and do not recommend that it be sent forward to a legislative committee for its consideration.