Madam Speaker, I thank the Bloc Québécois for giving me the opportunity to speak on this issue, which is all the more important now that ads for sports betting are becoming increasingly common during broadcasts of Canadian sports events on channels like TVA Sports. These ads are not just regulated by Loto-Québec, and we are seeing other initiatives. It is therefore all the more urgent to better regulate them.
Before I get into the meat of the issue, I want to say that my thoughts are with the front-line workers supporting people who are suffering. Their job has gotten even harder because of COVID-19 and all the emotional distress it is causing. I want to thank them for encouraging those people and express my sincere appreciation under the circumstances. The support they provide is also related to the subject we are talking about this afternoon.
To come back to Bill C-218, I want to thank my colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood, and I also want to recognize my colleague from Windsor West, who began this process a few years ago. In my opinion, the changes that would be brought about by Bill C-218 would improve transparency, better regulate sports betting and give the government additional resources to take care of vulnerable people struggling with addiction. I think that kind of support is key, regardless of the matter of revenue.
I therefore address the House today to express my support for Bill C-218, which seeks to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code on sports betting and sporting events to make it lawful to bet on a single sports event, rather than having to bet on a minimum of two events or more at a time. Single-event betting is already legal in many U.S. states.
This change would enable the provinces to regulate sports betting practices and give them the legal tools they need to keep bettors safe while limiting abuse. Provincial governments and communities will also benefit from economic spinoffs.
We in the Bloc Québécois believe that transparency is the best way to fight the scourges caused by organized crime. This easing of the legislative measures will allow Loto-Québec, a public corporation, to collect revenues associated with this type of transaction. The Canadian Gaming Association estimates that $27 billion could be recovered from the black market every year.
The most important aspect of this is that, through the work of a public corporation, Loto-Québec, the Quebec government is in a better position to prevent pathological gambling problems than organized crime. Our public corporation has taken it upon itself to raise awareness and help people who have an addiction. Thanks to initiatives such as the Fondation Mise sur toi, the Quebec government is aware that it is best positioned to set up support mechanisms.
Our public corporation's approach gets us out of the infernal spiral of debt, organized crime and the suffering of illegal gamblers. When gambling happens on the black market, the identity of those with problems remains unknown and it is impossible to step in to help those who gamble excessively.
Bill C-218 would limit competition in the sports betting world, which is currently preventing Loto-Québec from competing with U.S. casinos. Even the Casino de Montréal is now advertising to attract players.
Our physical proximity to the United States makes it easy for people to place bets outside our borders. The member for Windsor West really helped us understand that, because his riding is close to Detroit and he has observed the phenomenon himself.
Bill C-218 will give Quebec and the other provinces the tools to better regulate sports betting, which will be impossible if it remains in the hands of offshore websites and underground casinos. Especially now in the Internet age, Bill C-218 will help our own Crown corporation, Loto-Québec, adapt to meet the needs of its clientele while also limiting the flow of capital abroad. I think online poker sites are among the biggest culprits.
Bill C-218 will enhance reciprocity between Canada's sports betting market and the United States'. Without that, it does not work. Specifically, Bill C-218 also protects casinos in Quebec and Canada. The casino in Plattsburgh, New York, competes with the Casino de Montréal in Quebec, just as casinos around Detroit, Michigan, compete with the one in Windsor, Ontario. We are talking significant revenue that our governments are missing out on, revenue that could support health care, for example.
Part of the money taken from sports betting transactions outside our borders would be used to structure our own support mechanisms or at least contribute to the well-being of our constituents.
Bill C-218 also helps weaken the funding of organized crime. It is a way to undercut them by taking away another source of income. It is also a way to prevent misfortunes like the one a young man in Quebec went through. I will read his story as reported in La Presse:
The young man went to an online site. At the homepage, the user has to enter a name and a password to access the site and then he can bet on the outcome of several professional sports games and even on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. According to our research, the name of the site is registered to a corporation in Panama. The site has been hosted on a server in Costa Rica since March 2015, but did not become active until a year later. The corporation that owns the server hosts roughly 75 other online betting sites. We were told that the Montreal mafia's sports betting operation is run by a manager who has an assistant below him, and then some bookies.
It is sort of like a pyramid scheme. The La Presse article continues:
The bookies are responsible for the players they recruit. The interest charged on a debt can increase from 3% to 5% a week, and when a player has a large debt, an individual with ties to organized crime can purchase it and then collect the debt and interest from the player. “The player's family may end up having to take on the player's debt,” a source explained. “Some people have lost their homes because of online sports betting.”
It is obvious that the situation is more than tragic.
Bill C-218 builds on a long line of failures. Ten years ago, in 2011, a bill similar in every respect to Bill C-218 was introduced, and the Liberals were the only ones who voted against it.
Ten years later, it is rather odd to see the Liberals introducing Bill C-213 to amend the Criminal Code provisions on single-event sports betting.
Then, a new version of the bill was adopted in the House of Commons but ultimately died in the Senate, which was also rather surprising.
In September 2016, the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of Bill C-221, introduced by none other than the member for Windsor West. Oddly enough, however, a majority of Liberal MPs opposed the bill once again.
I have no doubt that my New Democrat colleague from Windsor West will vote in favour of Bill C-218, introduced by our colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood. He has already spoken to this bill and, I should note, I also had the opportunity to speak then.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-218, since it will provide a new revenue stream for Loto-Québec and will impede unfair competition from American casinos. It will allow Quebec and the other provinces to better regulate sports betting, which is currently left to foreign websites and illegal casinos.
The Crown corporation is in the best position to prevent issues with compulsive gambling and organized crime, and to provide meaningful support to those who have fallen victim to the slippery slope of compulsive gambling. This issue causes psychological distress. We need to take meaningful action, and the framework proposed in the bill introduced by the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood is the least we can do.