The gaming sector in Canada is anticipating a “summer of change” as the Federal Senate considers Bill C-218, dubbed “The Safe & Regulated Sports Act.”
Bill C-218 is a simple bill that attempts to delink gaming from Canada’s Criminal Code, allowing the country’s ten provinces to regulate their markets independently if they so desire.
Quick to act, Ontario’s government began an igaming consultation in April, with the goal of laying the groundwork for the country’s most populous province to launch its first online gambling framework.
Stan Cho, MPP for Willowdale and executive for Ontario’s Ministry of Finance, a policy stakeholder in the province’s planned igaming regime, said: “We are mixing the cement, but nothing has been settled.”
Observed C-218 developments
“On a panel at the SBC Digital North America online conference, Cho said: “We are watching C-218 senate developments very closely, as sports betting will be an essential component of Ontario’s market offering.”
“The bill will change federal codes to legalise single sports betting, but more importantly it will help Ontario capture that gray market activity – sports betting is a crucial offering for any legal gambling regime.”
Cho acknowledged that the Ontario Treasury had been inundated with market estimates ranging from $500 million to $1 billion per year, but insisted that the priority was to create a level playing field for businesses, promote safer gambling rules, and secure a legislative guarantee to launch Canada’s first regulated marketplace.
The panel was reminded by Ron Segev, a founding partner of the North American gaming law company Segev LLP, that Canada had previously experienced its online gambling transition during the sector’s infancy in the 1990s. However, Canada’s criminal rules had let down incumbents in the once-burgeoning digital economy.
“The bigger opportunity for us is to finally reverse that brain drain,” Segev claimed.
“In 96/97 when online gambling started to explode, the major innovator for the industry was Canada. Unfortunately, we did not have the regulatory infrastructure to support a nascent industry, so the best and brightest had to leave.
“That was a real loss for Canada, what should have been a thriving industry was governed by a criminal code regime, resulting in a real economic loss for the country.”
The country’s loss was exacerbated by the emergence of a black market that actively targets domestic users and provides no protection against problem gambling illnesses.
Shelley White, CEO of Canada’s Responsible Gambling Council (RGC), emphasised that Ontario’s proposed system will provide an opportunity to correct previous inconsistencies: “Ontario government have always held a strong commitment for consumer protections, and that is good news for everybody involved.
“We anticipate that there will be a lot of new operators joining the market, and my concern is that regulators handle RG duties right from the top.”
‘Public health first’ approach
White has recommended policymakers to take a ‘public health first’ approach to launching Ontario’s system, which is fundamentally different from what has been seen in other North American jurisdictions.
She said: “We want Ontario to have the best RG training for all its gambling workforce. And a safe market should include clear promotion of safer gambling tools and self-exclusion, with operators forced to inform customers of game risks and what the odds are.”
Expectations are high for how Ontario would implement its online gambling regulations, which Paul Burns, President of the Canadian Gambling Association (CGA), has long advocated for.
When asked how Ontario would enforce restrictions to retain its market value as the country’s first regime, Burns said there would be “many nuances in how provinces choose to create their laws.”
“Regulators need to ensure that they are not creating oversight for the sake of oversight… and this is often misunderstood in Canada. There will be a number of interpretations across the country used by provincial governments.”
A grounded perspective
He also warned: “On enforcement, we need to have a grounded perspective. Ontario can develop a robust framework, but it must be mentioned that Ontario cannot serve as Canada’s cop for policing regulations.”
After the panel’s hearings were completed, Stan Cho was put on the spot and asked the important question of timetables for Ontario’s projected regime’s implementation. When asked about a December launch, Cho said, “I think it’s feasible,” but added, “I’m speaking from a building made from Canadian oak… so we can knock on wood for a Christmas launch.”
The industry experts were presenting at SBC Digital North America’s Regulatory Track, which was sponsored by IGT Play Sports.