Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-221, also called the safe and regulated sports betting act.
I would like to thank my hon. colleague and neighbour, the member for Windsor West, for introducing this bill. It is an important piece of legislation. It seeks to delete paragraph 207(4)(b) from the Criminal Code, which explicitly prohibits wagering on any race, fight, or single sports event or athletic contest.
The bill may sound familiar, and for good reason. It was previously introduced by my friend, Joe Comartin, the now retired member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He did more than just introduce it, though. His bill was debated in this place, passed in a vote at third reading, and sent to the Senate. Unfortunately, it languished in the Senate for years before dying on the Order Paper with the dissolution of the 41st Parliament.
It is shameful that the Senate did not do its job and that it prevented the passage of legislation that was passed by elected MPs in the House. Therefore, I thank the member for Windsor West for choosing to reintroduce his former colleague's bill and for his continued work serving his community in the region of Windsor-Essex.
As I mentioned, Bill C-221 would remove the clause in the Criminal Code that prohibits betting on “on any race or fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest”. Betting on sporting events is not illegal in Canada. Since 2005, Canadians have spent around $500 million annually betting on sports legally. What this bill would do is make betting on a single event legal.
Right now, individuals are required to bet on at least two events. In Ontario, the minimum is three. This so-called parlay system is under the jurisdiction of the provinces, as is all operating, licensing, and regulating of legal gambling. Bill C-221 would simply allow for single sports betting to come under the purview of the provinces as well.
The safe and regulated sports betting act is very relevant to the people who live in my riding of Essex. A large employer and attraction in our region is the world-class Caesars Windsor casino. People come from all over southwestern Ontario and the American Midwest to visit Caesars, both for its entertainment purposes and to enjoy the many other tourist attractions of the Windsor-Essex region. Local residents know how much Americans love coming over to Caesars. All anyone has to do is look at the border traffic on any weekend in Windsor.
Americans choose to come to Windsor-Essex even though Detroit casinos may be more convenient for them. They like coming to Canada, especially now with the lower dollar. The legislation before us today would give casinos like Caesars a competitive advantage over their competition south of the border. This is good for Canadian jobs, tourism, and economy.
Currently, only Las Vegas, Nevada, offers legal single sports betting in North America. Think about that. If people want to place a legal wager on the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup, or a Stanley Cup finals game, the only place they can do so is Las Vegas. For the Super Bowl weekend alone, there are estimates that nearly $116 million were generated.
There is tremendous economic opportunity here. Gaming is the largest sector of the entertainment industry. It directly supports more than 128,000 full-time jobs and generates $8.7 billion in revenue to governments and first nations groups. A Canadian Gaming Association study estimates that the introduction of single sports betting would generate $70 million in revenues and nearly $31 million in ancillary revenues to the Windsor-Essex region. Other border regions with casinos would similarly benefit.
Many communities stand to gain from this new source of revenue that would be returned, in part, to the community. It has been estimated that allowing single sports betting could create 100 direct jobs at Caesars Windsor. This is huge for my region, which has stubbornly high unemployment rates. Over the past decade alone, it has lost well over 10,000 good manufacturing jobs. The region needs new opportunities. This is why my colleague's bill has widespread support, including from the city of Windsor, the city of Niagara Falls, the Canadian Gaming Association, and the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.
A delegation came to Ottawa earlier this year to encourage parliamentarians to support this bill. Representatives came from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Gaming Association, and others. Despite the bill's broad support, the government has said it opposes Bill C-221 because it could potentially have negative impacts on those who struggle with gambling addictions. This is a serious concern and something to which I am very sensitive. Addiction is a serious problem, one that can destroy the lives of people and families in our community. Let us not underplay that.
However, I do not see any evidence put forth by the government to support its claims that Bill C-221 would encourage gambling problems. It is important to note that single sports betting already happens in Canada, but it is illegal and unregulated. In fact, it is estimated that the size of the market is in the $14 billion to $15 billion range. It is operated by illegal offshore gaming companies or organized crime rings. These are unregulated and unsafe venues. Yet, every day, people hand over their credit card information to these offshore websites and incur big amounts of debt. These organizations will not hesitate to prey on the vulnerable and they do not help to provide services that benefit the public.
Simply continuing the prohibition on single sports betting, as the government seems to favour, will do nothing to stop these organizations from profiting off of Canadians. According to reports by the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, bookmaking exists in all regions of Canada, and gambling, including sports betting, is used as a funding tool for organized crime. A legal and regulated single sports betting industry would undermine the client base of illegal gambling venues. Legalization would not only reduce their profits by providing customers with a legal alternative, but it would also protect law-abiding citizens.
For those who currently participate in single sports betting by dealing with criminal groups, a regulated industry would provide a safe alternative. This safe alternative would be of greatest benefit to those suffering from an addiction to gambling. As I have said, we need to support those who need our help, and continuing this prohibition on single sports betting impairs our ability to do this. Instead of being exposed to the opportunities and services available to them in a safe, legal, and regulated environment, those suffering from gambling addiction are forced to interact with predatory and criminal enterprises. This is dangerous to their personal safety and financial health, and also detrimental to their ability to heal. Do members think organized crime groups are contributing money to anti-addiction efforts, supports, or services? Of course not. The provinces do this.
Measures are in place to support people with gambling addictions. In Ontario, there is a Responsible Gaming Resource Centre operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. The one in Caesars Windsor is open seven days a week between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m. These centres provide people with information about community services available to help them fight addiction and also help them learn about safe gaming practices. According to the website rgrc.org, over 170,000 people receive services from these centres.
There are other resources available to those who wish to seek help with their addiction. These include Ontario's self-exclusion program, where individuals can request to be denied access to OLG facilities; and also the playsmart.ca website, which is full of excellent resources. It is incredibly important to have a strong network of services to support people with these addictions.
Bill C-221 would not legalize something that does not already happen. Single sports betting happens every day in Canada. What we are talking about here is providing the opportunity for the provinces to be able to regulate and co-ordinate in a safe environment. We know and believe that moderation is the key to responsibly enjoying other forms of gaming. This principle should be applied to single sports betting.
Let us take the money out of the hands of criminal groups and put it to work for our communities. Providing a safe and legal environment for Canadians and providing the vulnerable with better addictions services absolutely deserve all of our support.
I want to encourage my colleagues to give serious consideration to supporting this bill at second reading. I urge all members to vote in support of the safe and regulated sports betting act.