Proposed changes to Canada’s Criminal Code relating to sports betting

On November 26, 2020, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada introduced a bill that proposes to decriminalize single event sport betting. Single event sport betting is placing a bet on the outcome of one single sporting game.

The proposed changes will give provinces and territories the ability to offer single event sport betting products and the discretion to manage single event sport betting in their respective jurisdictions. In provinces and territories that choose to offer single event sport betting, Canadians would have an opportunity to engage in this activity in a regulated environment, either online or in physical facilities.

To complement this legislative initiative, the Government of Canada is proposing to engage with provincial and territorial counterparts and Indigenous communities on gaming more generally. This includes the federal government hearing from Indigenous communities and organizations that have expressed an interest in the role of Indigenous communities in the regulation of gambling. The federal government will also be engaging with provinces and territories and key industry stakeholders within the horse racing industry on the impact of decriminalization of single event sport betting.

Sports betting in Canada’s Criminal Code

Current Criminal Code provisions related to sports betting

The Criminal Code currently prohibits all forms of gambling, with the exception of provincial and territorial “lottery schemes”, betting between private citizens in limited circumstances, and betting regulated by the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency. Provinces and territories are permitted to conduct and license a broad range of “lottery schemes”, including betting on the outcome of more than one sporting event.

Proposed Criminal Code amendments related to sports betting

The Bill proposes to amend paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code to permit provinces and territories to regulate and conduct single event sport betting on any sporting event except horse racing. The Bill would maintain the federal government’s role concerning pari-mutuel systems of betting with respect to horse racing.

Pari-mutuel betting

Pari-mutuel betting is a process of betting that takes all bets and places them in a pool. In Canada, pari‑mutuel betting systems are currently only regulated by the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA) in relation to live horse racing. The CPMA is a special operating agency under the purview of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and regulates betting on horse races across Canada.

Problem gambling

In partnership with the provinces and territories, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that all gambling is conducted responsibly and with appropriate supports. To that end, the Government of Canada provides funding to the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addictions (CCSA). The CCSA developed Canada’s first ever low-risk gambling guidelines: