moved that Bill C-218, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is truly an honour to stand in the House today and begin the conversation we need on the safe and regulated sports betting act, which seeks to legalize single-event sports wagering in Canada.
The gaming industry in Canada is a multi-billion dollar industry. Casinos, racetracks and other gaming facilities operating across the country directly employ tens of thousands of people. The economic activity created in these communities with gaming facilities generate tens of thousands of dollars more.
The gaming industry pays $6.7 billion in salaries per year and generates over $9 billion in revenue for governments and much-needed charities every single year. However, none of that includes the single-event sport betting industry, which is a $14-billion industry in this country. Unfortunately, all of that activity is taking place underground. Offshore websites like Bodog and bet365 take in billions of dollars a year, and criminal organizations operating black market betting rings across the country are taking in billions of dollars more.
As we look at this, none of that money is going back toward the public good, and much of it goes toward funding other forms of criminality. It is true that in this country some form of sports betting is taking place legally, and I mentioned that. Horse racing is one. It takes place all across this country. There is also what is known as parlay betting in this country. It is what programs like Proline and Sport Select have, requiring bettors across the country to correctly place wagers on multiple events. If a bettor does not get them all right, then the ticket is unsuccessful.
Parlay betting delivers about $500 million in revenue nationally each year in this country, but that is a mere pittance compared to what single-event betting brings offshore and to the criminal enterprises in this country.
In my province of Saskatchewan, the provincial government uses the revenue from parlay betting products to fund sports body government industries, the youth and amateur sports, and we also use that money for the amateur arts in our province. Imagine what we could do with our share of $14 billion.
Legalization of single-event betting is something that, for many years, governments along with indigenous groups across Canada have been calling for. The legalization of single-event betting is supported by provincial and many municipal governments across this country. I have spoken with and received support from provincial cabinet ministers coast to coast.
Travis Toews, the Minister of Finance in the province of Alberta, wrote to me in an email, “The current restrictions do not allow the provinces to compete on an even playing field, thus allowing substantial revenues to flow to unregulated, illegal operations and offshore Internet sites without providing any financial benefits to Canadians. Removing these barriers to allow for provincially regulated alternatives would not only provide the provinces with financial benefits for their communities and social programs, but would also provide gaming consumers with security and integrity that is inherent in provincially regulated gaming.”
That is the sentiment that is echoed by other provincial governments in this land, and I think it really speaks for itself. We need regulation. The provinces want to regulate it, and they have the expertise on regulating gambling and betting. They have been doing it for the past 30-plus years.
I have also spoken several times with the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, also known as SIGA. It believes that single-event betting would be a valuable addition to its businesses and would greatly benefit indigenous communities across my province of Saskatchewan.
SIGA's casinos are run to the highest regulatory standards of the Indigenous Gaming Regulators and are accredited by the Responsible Gambling Council of Canada.
This is done as a non-profit company that gives 100% of profits back to indigenous nations of Saskatchewan, to community organizations in Saskatchewan and to the Province of Saskatchewan. These are the organizations that we want running our betting operations, not the criminal enterprises in unregulated offshore websites that we have now in Canada.
I am going to address the elephant in the room: problem gambling and addiction. As it currently stands, there is absolutely no consumer protection or support for those struggling with gambling addictions built into the illegal sports betting systems that we have today in this country. The Hells Angels do not have a program for problem gambling.
Minister Toews mentioned in a letter to me that legalizing single-event wagering would allow governments to put strict standards and protections in place to protect consumers and offer assistance to those who need it. It would also give governments, as we all know, much-needed new sources of revenue that they could use to fund social programs, such as mental health programs, mental health research and addiction treatment, and broader sectors, such as education and health care.
The final thing we must consider is the context that we are debating the legislation in. I have had a few people ask me what the difference is between now and when the bill was introduced in the last Parliament. First of all, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the Canadian Football League and Major League Soccer have all asked for Bill C-218. In a joint statement made by these five professional leagues back in June, they stressed the importance of a legal framework for sports betting that could shift consumers from unregulated black-market betting to the legal and safe marketplace that this would provide. This would allow for strong consumer protection and safeguards, and would protect the integrity of the game.
We must also consider that our current laws put Canada at a significant competitive disadvantage. Since the proposal was last considered in Canada, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down their national ban on single-event wagering. Now nearly every state south of the border, 48 to be exact, has either legalized single-event betting or has a bill before the state legislature seeking to do so.
These include the border states, such as New York and Michigan. This poses a unique threat to our communities of Niagara Falls and Windsor, whose economies rely largely on the cross-border tourism. Gaming is a big part of the tourism sector. It is a big concern for these communities that if they are not able to offer this service, they will lose a significant amount of business to their competition in the United States.
As a federal government, we need to be giving our local industries and communities the resources they need to be competitive. We must also consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has had a profound effect on many industries and communities in this country, and gaming and sports, the two industries most talked about in the context of sports betting, are no exception to that.
I am sure that many of my colleagues are familiar with the situation in the National Hockey League as it resumes its season in the tightly controlled bubbles of Toronto and Edmonton. No one was allowed in without first isolating for two weeks. Once their isolation was done, teams spent additional weeks or months in the bubble away from their homes and families.
This system worked. There was not a single positive test of any player inside the bubble in Toronto and Edmonton the entire time. All things considered, the National Hockey League's return to play was a great success.
However, anyone who follows sports closely knows that this model simply is not sustainable. The total loss of revenue from the lack of tickets sales of any kind will take a toll on many teams. Asking players to separate themselves from their families for months at a time just is not feasible. Even if fans can return to the stands sometime in the near future, the teams will need additional resources of revenue to begin their own financial recovery.
There is the Canadian Football League, adored, of course, in my home province of Saskatchewan. As many know, the rough Riders are the heart and soul of sports in the province of Saskatchewan. Every weekend, fans travel from across the province to pack Mosaic Stadium to the brim and cheer on the beloved Rough Riders.
Unfortunately, the Canadian Football League was forced to cancel its season this year, and I might add the only professional sport league in North America that has not played this past year. The prospect of having no fans in attendance meant too much of a revenue loss to sustain alongside the cost of a season.
We are still not sure what is going to happen with the smaller sports leagues. When I look at the Canadian Hockey League or the American Hockey League, the teams in those leagues are often as important to their communities as the big league clubs are to the big cities. These the leagues, similarly, had to cancel their season due to COVID-19 and the inability to generate any revenue without fans in the stands.
My mind goes to the small market community-owned hockey clubs that lost out on the revenue this past year, on which they desperately relied, teams like Prince Albert, Owen Sound, Peterborough, Baie-Comeau and many more. As we know, many other teams that represent their communities on the ice serve as a role model for countless children in their communities. That was also lost this past year.
Single-event sports betting is not a cure all, but it can be an important part of any plan to support our gaming and sports industries. It can provide not only a significant new source of revenue for sports leagues, but it will drive increased interest in individual games and events. This is a step that the federal government can take to support Canadian sport coast to coast.
Canadians in Winnipeg and Quebec City know what it is like to lose a beloved sport franchise. Winnipeg lost the first version of the Jets in 1996, and it did not get another team until 15 years later. Quebec City lost the Nordiques in 1995. Sadly, it is still without an NHL team in that city. Not only does it hurt the fans, but it hurts the city as a whole.
I will summarize a few points of the bill.
First, single-event sports betting is already taking place in Canada to the tune of $14 billion a year. However, instead of safely regulated, these activities are run by the black market gambling rings and offshore websites. None of this money, absolutely none of it, goes back into the public coffers and none of it goes to addressing issues like problem gambling or mental health support.
Second, the provinces, our indigenous communities and major leagues want single-game sports betting in Canada. Fourteen billion dollars is a lot of money and it does not just mean more economic activity and new, well-paying jobs. It also means new tax revenues to invest in education, health care as well as the more specific investments like mental health treatment, consumer protection and problem gambling programs that are much needed in the country.
Third, this is an opportunity to assist our sports and gaming industries in their recovery from the damage done by COVID-19. As we speak, gaming institutions across this country are operating at a greatly reduced capacity or not at all.
It is a common sense change. I hope my colleagues will support Bill C-218