Time’s A Wastin’ To Legalize Single Event Sports Betting
Casino gambling came to Windsor 26 years ago. I opposed it because City Council didn’t listen to my cries for a referendum.
Unencumbered, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) barged ahead and opened a temporary casino in the old Art Gallery of Windsor in May of 1994. Another temp, the Northern Belle Riverboat Casino, opened in December of ’94.
Windsor was off to the races as Ontario’s first legalized gambling trailblazer. The temporary houses proved to be such a money cow that the permanent casino was bought and paid for by the time it opened in 1998, and the OLG built the art gallery a new edifice to boot.
Detroiters had previously opposed legalized gambling in two referendums, but couldn’t open three temporary downtown casinos fast enough when they realized that Windsor was eating their lunch.
How the tables have turned!
In 2020, it appears certain that Detroit will beat Windsor to the punch by introducing single event sports betting while the Canadian government continues almost a decade of dithering.
Following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing single game betting, Michigan was among the first 20 states to sign it into law on December 20 last year.
Single event betting differs from parlay betting, like Pro Line, where gamblers combine multiple individual bets into one bet.
The three Detroit casinos need to acquire licences before wagering begins, although there is a possibility that could be rushed through in time for the “March Madness” college basketball tournament, starting March 17.
Windsor West MP Brian Masse is the single event crusader on this side of the border, after taking over the file from NDP brother, Joe Comartin, who retired in 2015.
Comartin won support from all parties for his private member’s bill for legalization in the House of Commons in 2012, only to see it stall in a dysfunctional senate and not brought to a vote.
Since then, the Liberals have shown little interest in amending the criminal code to make single game betting legal, even after the changed circumstances in the U.S. have raised fears that Michigan casinos will pilfer customers from casinos across Canada.
Federal Justice Minister David Lametti, buttressed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has indicated that gambling reform is not a priority. It’s small potatoes compared to other matters like the First Nations rail blockade.
This maddens Masse, who notes that professional sports leagues no longer oppose single game betting, an about face from 2012 when the senate faced heavy lobbying from major league baseball. The premise then was that legalization could lead to the fixing of games to cash in on big bets.
So what’s the problem now?
“They just can’t be bothered,” fumes Masse, essentially accusing Trudeau’s government of being lazy. “This issue is the poster child for how the Liberals just don’t want to work.”Masse and Irek Kusmierczyk, rookie Liberal MP for Windsor-Tecumseh, organized a round table of Windsor’s community leaders from business and labour, on December 17, 2019, to highlight the urgency of the matter.
Masse went on a road trip in mid-January 2020 to ramp up support and awareness from Casino Woodbine and Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls. He dropped off an online petition at Trudeau’s office.
Meanwhile, Masse has been “pleasantly surprised” by the support he’s been getting from all parties, including Conservative MPs.
“There’s a greater appreciation that we are getting our clock cleaned,” he says, noting that most provinces support the cause.
With the House of Commons back on February 18, Masse’s people turned the spotlight on Kusmierczyk for not aggressively advocating for the cause after promising support during his 2019 federal election campaign.
“We need somebody to champion it,” Masse told me before heading back to Ottawa.
Kusmierczyk spent much of his time in mid-February travelling around the region with Liberal cabinet ministers handing out cheques in the name of economic development, culture and job creation.
When I reached him by phone, he insisted his support has not evaporated.
“This is an important opportunity for our community to create additional jobs . . . and we need to protect 2,500 jobs,” he stressed, alluding to the workforce at Caesars Windsor.
Kusmierczyk indicated he is lobbying MPs and Liberal caucus members behind the scenes, and claims he conveyed the message to Lametti on the urgency of the matter.
The way forward, he stated, will probably come as another private members bill. It won’t be his bill since he is a parliamentary secretary and not eligible. The bill would need to pass first, second and third readings, be sent to a standing committee of the Ministry of Justice, and then passed on to the senate.
Paul Burns, President and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, representing gaming operators and suppliers across Canada, estimates that a private members process could take a year.
Masse has called for an order-in-council to fast track the process. There is a recent precedent, he informs. Three years ago the PM and cabinet passed an order to permit the enhancement of the Ambassador Bridge in a 17 page document. Don’t bet the farm on that happening again.
This is not just a bunch of people betting on a football game. Wads of money and economic spinoffs are at stake. New Jersey, which rushed through the licensing process after the Supreme Court ruling 18 months ago, has enjoyed a 15 percent bump in attendance since introducing single event sports betting at its Atlantic City casinos.
Burns estimates that $4 billion is wagered annually offshore and on-line with none of that avarice benefitting the Canadian taxpayers. An estimated $10 billion a year is consumed by organized crime.
“The idea that if it’s not legal it doesn’t exist is crazy,” lectures Burns.
He lists spinoffs of legalizing betting on single sports games. New tech software services, sports data and marketing companies are being developed around the world.
“That’s why we’re not going away,” Burns promises.
He and Masse can smell the blood on Parliament Hill, but the question remains — how long it will take to drink the nectar?
The opinions expressed by Alan Halberstadt are not necessarily those of Biz X magazine or its advertisers.