Bet On It: The Legalization of Single-Event Sports Betting in Canada

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

If you live in Canada and have engaged with the world of sports betting before, there’s a good chance you’ve been noticing what’s going on with Bill C-218, The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act. If not, you’ve probably seen the BET99 commercial with Canadian MMA sensation, Georges St-Pierre, or have noticed the Betway and FanDuel logos on the dashboards during the NHL Playoffs.

Tuesday, June 22nd marked a historic day for Canada’s gaming industry. The Senate approved Bill C-218 by a vote of 57-20, without amendment, on Third Reading. A week later on June 29th, it was announced that Bill C-218 had received Royal Assent, officially becoming a legalized act of Parliament. Specifically, Bill C-218 amends paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code to make it lawful for a provincial government to conduct and manage a lottery scheme that involves betting on a race, fight, or single sport event or athletic contest in that province, with the exception of a horse race. Essentially, each province and territory can now implement this legislation into their respective gaming markets, allowing Canadians to bet on single sport events. Finally.

So how did we get here? Prior to the approval of Bill C-218, Canadians were only allowed to bet via parlay - a type of bet in which an individual wagers on two or more events and must win on all of them in order to receive a payout. Yeah, risky business.

The solution? Canadians weren’t satisfied with their odds and resorted to illegal and offshore betting operators to seek out the betting experience they were craving. The Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) estimated that Canadians have been spending a staggering $10 billion a year through illegal sports betting operations controlled by organized crime. Approximately $4 billion was being spent through offshore online sports wagering sites like Bet365 and William Hill. In comparison, only $500 million was being spent through legal provincial sports lottery products. Analysis by Deloitte suggests that this figure of $500 million could grow to nearly $28 billion within five years of legalization.

Now that the Criminal Code has been amended, single-event sports betting will provide greater regulatory oversight and cutting off of illegal wagering activities, stronger consumer protection, and economic opportunities for communities. Canada’s gaming industry supports over 182,000 jobs across the country and this new act will only see this number grow. When it comes to economic impact, Ontario leads the way, generating $6.3 billion in revenue from gaming activities, while adding $6.9 billion in GDP value and $4.4 billion in labour income.

It’s been an uphill battle for Bill C-218 ever since it was first introduced by Conservative MP, Kevin Waugh, in February 2020. This monumental decision represents a long-awaited and very welcome change for the country. Our neighbours across the border have had stakes in the game (pun intended) since May 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports betting, allowing U.S. states to legalize it if they wish. As of right now, sports betting is legal in more than two dozen states.

The NBA, NHL, CFL, and MLB are among the many organizations that have supported stronger regulatory oversight of sports wagering in Canada and greater consumer protection measures.

Paul Burns, President and CEO of the CGA, said the following about the exciting news:

“This is a major milestone and achievement for the Canadian gaming industry. The CGA has been working to legalize single-event sports betting for more than 10 years and Bill C-218 benefited from the groundswell of broad stakeholder support from across Canada. The need for regulation, oversight, player protection, and the creation of economic benefits for Canada was understood by everyone involved in the legislative process, which is why the Bill was successfully passed.”

Each province and territory in Canada will now be able to choose how they would like to move forward with the establishment of the current legislation in their respective gaming markets.

When it comes to sponsorship and partnership, the Canadian market is ripe for the picking. Within hours of the announcement, major sportsbooks and operators issued public statements to immediately express their enthusiasm and make their presence known:

“DraftKings has been part of the Canadian sports culture for many years and, through legalized sports betting, the company has another opportunity to further change the way fans in the country engage with their favourite teams, players and leagues.”

- Griffin Finan, DraftKings VP of Government Affairs

“As a leading global online gaming company that has clearly stated its intentions to be a prominent player in the prospective Canadian sports betting marketplace, we continue to enjoy the exciting news surrounding Bill C-218 and welcome the chance to hire homegrown Canadian talent to build a best-in-class, local team that can uniquely realize this great opportunity.”

- Johnny Aitken, CEO of PointsBet

“With this change in federal law, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with provincial governments, policymakers, and regulators in crafting policy that benefits taxpayers and provinces, while safeguarding the integrity of games.”

- BetMGM Company Statement

Canadian sports media company theScore however, is venturing beyond just a public statement and wasted no time in getting the message across to potential consumers in its home city. Upon the passing of Bill C-218, the company placed a handful of billboards across downtown Toronto, with one of the most notable ones being right in the centre of Yonge-Dundas Square.

The next few months are going to be very interesting to say the least. We can expect to see some of the aforementioned sportsbooks and betting operators forming strategic partnerships with the major sports leagues and properties in Canada, just like they’ve been actively doing in the U.S. In the last few weeks, Bally’s Corporation became the Exclusive Sports Betting Partner of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, Drew Brees joined PointsBet as a Brand Ambassador, and Kevin Garnett launched sports betting startup, Gaming Society, in tandem with The Players’ Tribune co-founder, Jaymee Messler.

Many of the teams and leagues in the U.S. have multiple betting partners and it's certain this will be the case here in Canada with sports organizations bringing companies on as their “Official Sports Betting Partner” or “Official Gaming Partner,” while figuring out unique and innovative ways to saturate the gaming category.

Ultimately, this is about providing fans with a new opportunity to engage with their favourite players and teams, especially in a post-COVID-19 sports landscape. These brands will seek out various methods of reaching the gaming community in a way that is timely, effective, and most importantly, authentic.

We are entering the Golden Age of sports betting and wagering in Canada. Get your lucky charm ready, because this is just the beginning.


If you’re looking to continue to keep tabs on the progression of Bill C-218 and other major developments in this space, be sure to check out The Parleh - a Canadian-made newsletter that covers all things sports betting.