The Criminal Code of Canada makes it illegal to gamble or conduct any gambling activities within Canada unless they fall within exceptions set out in the Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code of 1892/1910
First enacted in 1892, the Criminal Code has undergone many changes over the years to tolerate gambling under certain conditions. A 1910 amendment permitted pari-mutuel betting, which is a form of gambling in which winners get paid from a pool after the authorities take their cut first. The 1910 amendment allowed occasional games of chance provided that all profits were used for charitable or religious purposes and, also, games at agricultural fairs and exhibitions.
The Canadian Government Law
The Canadian government made betting-related changes to the Criminal Code in 1970, expanding the exceptions and leading to the creation of a multi-billion dollar gambling industry in Canada. For example, Canada’s first commercial casino opened in Winnipeg in 1989 and now they are such facilities in most of the country’s provinces. A large number of local governments are operating what are known as video lottery terminals, which, instead of vending coins to winners, pay out in coupons that are redeemable for cash. Also, many local governments are running profitable lotteries.
Sports Betting Laws (parlays)
One of the quirks of the Criminal Code is that it stipulates that it is against the law to bet on a single sport event or athletic contest. Authorized betting operators only permit sports punters to bet on the outcome of multiple matches in, say, the National Hockey League. This bet is called a parlay. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of Canadian gamblers bet online with bookmakers not licensed in their country, which is illegal.
There are moves afoot to amend the Criminal Code once again to enable Canadian sports punters to bet on single events legally, at least with Canada-based organizations, thanks to the work of Bob Runciman and his colleagues.
Recently Senator Runciman, an ex-provincial Leader of the Opposition in the Ontario Legislature and a Conservative Party member of the Canadian Senate since 2010, moved the third reading of Bill C-290 that aims to change the Criminal Code in relation to sports betting and, in doing so, gave an impassioned plea for his Senate colleagues to pass something that made it through the House of Commons unanimously.
Quotes ‘pro’ sports betting
“Voting against this bill ignores the testimony of those who treat problem gamblers. Voting against this bill ignores the submissions of those with experience enforcing the laws against illegal gambling. Voting against this bill plays to what I consider the baseless claims of the professional sports leagues. Voting against this bill ignores the reality of sports betting today, a reality that has been played out in the headlines of this city in recent weeks with the arrest of 21 area people charged with bookmaking in connection with a multi-million-dollar, Internet-based sports betting operation,” said Senator Runciman.
“Make no mistake: if you vote against this bill, you are not voting to put a stop to single-event sports gambling, but you are voting to ensure it remains in the shadows, with the money going offshore and to organized crime.
“What else did the experts who testified before Senate Committee tell us? Well, they agreed that the incidence of problem gambling has stabilised at around one per cent of the population in recent years, despite a vast increase in gambling opportunities. Legalized single-event sports betting is unlikely to move those numbers.
“In fact, problem gambling is more likely in the illegal environment, where responsible gambling measures are not in place, a fact confirmed by Doctor Kelly when he told us about two studies his organisation did in 2001 and 2005.
“I do not want to minimise the problems caused by gambling in our society but I do want to ensure things are kept in perspective. The dire social consequences predicted by opponents of this bill are not supported by the facts.
“Also, we received submissions from the NFL, the NHL and the NBA. These leagues provided strongly worded briefs, all apparently written by the same person, that suggest legalised betting is destructive to the social fabric, a threat to the integrity of sports and damaging to the bonds of trust between sporting organisations and their fans.
“This is from Major League Baseball, which looked the other way as steroid-fuelled players rewrote the record book ‚Äî the same Major League Baseball where the all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, has admitted he bet on 52 games of his own team in a single season. This is from the NHL, which allowed a convicted bookie, Rick Tocchet, to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is the same NHL that allowed the Edmonton Oilers to sign an advertising agreement with Bodog, a gambling website, which included rink board advertising, concourse and other signage and radio spots. This is the same NHL that promotes the PRO-LINE Dash for Cash between periods of Ottawa Senators games. This is from the National Football League that plays games in London, England, a country that has had single-event sports betting for many years. It seems to me, honourable senators, that these leagues are doing a pretty good job of threatening the integrity of sports all by themselves.
“What we have in North America are sports leagues that believe that if they pretend gambling does not exist they do not need to worry about it. Let us get real here. Why do they think newspapers print the point spreads for games?
“I will conclude by addressing the moral argument and the belief that we should not encourage an activity such as gambling. There is an argument that we do not legalize drugs and prostitution simply because people want to engage in these activities, so why should we legalize gambling? Honourable senators, that is a false analogy. Gambling is already legal. In fact, sports betting is already legal.
“There is no moral distinction between betting on multiple games, known as a parlay, which is now legal, and betting on a single game. The only difference is that most sports fans know that parlay betting is for suckers because you have very little chance of winning and that is the reason people are attracted to single-event sports betting and why they will continue to engage in it, whether or not this chamber passes this legislation. The reality is that we cannot shut down the Internet. They have tried that in the United States with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The money seized under that act is a pittance compared to what is being gambled online by Americans. It is suggested it is over $1 billion a day according to some estimates.”
Strictly speaking, the Criminal Code makes it an offense for Canadians to bet with gambling organizations not licensed in Canada. It would seem that the Canadian governments are not bothered about enforcing the law as it stands, although that may change if the C-290 passes bill and one of the main excuses for betting overseas becomes a thing of the past.