Do Canadian Gambling Laws Need an Overhaul?

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With the global COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changing the playing field across numerous market segments, the question begs whether the current Canadian gambling laws are robust enough to adapt to new market realities.  

According to Statistics Canada, the coronavirus pandemic has cost the country millions of lost jobs and billions of dollars pumped into deficit spending.  With most people forced to remain housebound, many land-based casinos have felt the financial pinch.  On the other hand, there has been a steady uptake of new clients wagering via various online gambling platforms, that have remained up and running throughout the pandemic.

Many online casinos that operate in Canada have reported significant year-on-year revenue growth that has ranged from between 67 per cent and 118 per cent since the commencement of the lockdown.  With such impressive growth reported under the current circumstances, many Canadian lawmakers are asking themselves whether an outright legalisation and liberalisation of the online gambling market, for both local and foreign operators, is the most prudent thing to do.

Offshore and Local Online Gambling Operator Regulations

The idea of bringing all the online gambling operators under the oversight of the Canadian government is intended to promote player safety and persecute any unlawful actors.  At the moment, the Canadian online gambling market is dominated by offshore providers.  These are often top of the range and well-established operators. 

Each online casino is also required to display a license from a reputable licensing authority that indicates that the Canadian players that gamble there are protected accordingly against any underhanded activities. 

Regretfully, since the internet is such an inexhaustive microcosm of information, there are instances where an occasional dubious operator does pop up.  By having a uniform legal framework in place for both offshore and local online gambling providers, it would become easier for the authorities to intercept and ban suspicious operators that make up only a tiny fraction of the overall market.

Changing Times for Sports Betting

Over the last couple of years, there’s been a growing chorus from both industry players and legislators to amend current Canadian betting laws and allow single-event bets.  South of the border, the US Supreme Court recently struck down a federal statute clause that prevented individual states from regulating their own gambling industries.  As a result, 17 states have passed bills that have made sports betting on their territory legal. 

After estimating how much money the province loses on an annual basis from the ban on single-event bets, the government of Ontario approached the federal government with the request to promulgate a new statute that would allow this type of betting. 

Recently, commissioners from the big five sports leagues in Canada issued a joint statement further laying out the need for the legalisation of single-event sports betting.  With the leagues now proactively involved in the matter, it has become increasingly difficult for the federal government to justify its current stance of keeping the Criminal Code governing betting as is. 

Indigenous Peoples’ Inclusion

Regulating and liberalising the online gambling and sports betting industries can come as a welcome boost for the First Nations communities across Canada.  Such amendments to the current legislative framework could allow these communities to reap the economic benefits further and achieve greater self-sovereignty. 

Following the example of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, possible new legislation could mandate that all local online gambling companies need to be hosted on indigenous land.  This would offer an opportunity for the local First Nations communities to generate additional revenue from hosting such services. 

Furthermore, it would ensure that all renting transactions from interactive gambling activities are conducted fairly, honestly, responsibly and in the best interest of all parties, and are disassociated from any form of crime and criminality.

The Way Forward

With the market slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there’s an indication that now is an excellent time to legalise both local online gambling and single-game sports betting.  Putting these activities under the umbrella of the federal authorities will empower the local indigenous populations and make them more self-sufficient and independent.  It would also create healthy competition between offshore and domestic online gambling providers, as well as offer bettors a greater choice when it comes to sports betting.

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