Paul Burns, the President and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, a national trade association representing leading operators and providers in Canada’s gambling, sports betting, esports and lottery industries, has proven himself to be a powerful lobbyist who has worked tirelessly to get the approval obtained from single game sports betting across the finish line in Canada.
Once in place, it is expected that single game sports betting will vary from province to province in much the same way that each state operates sports betting within its boundaries in the United States. For example, Alberta’s sports betting regulations are likely to be different from Manitoba’s sports betting regulations.
Burns spoke to Bookies.com to discuss how he believes single game Canadian sports betting will work after Bill C-218 goes into effect.
Questions and Answers with Paul Burns
Bookmaker: Why do you think this is the right time to legalize individual sports betting in Canada?
Paul Burns: Several factors played a role this time. What happened in the US is part of it because I think it raised awareness of sports betting in the US and that has obviously had an impact on Canada too. It became a talking point in the sports industry. And because the professional leagues in North America changed their minds, that was a big part of it. It was like removing the final obstacle or enemy, shall we say.
I think the combination of all of these things helped. Everyone supported this bill. The House of Commons has always supported this bill. The elected officials in Canada always supported the law. I believe the Senate has been involved in other policies in the past that affected these acts. But I think the inevitability, with the increase in activity and usage by Canadians over time, made it happen.
There was no good reason not to. That’s the other part.
No one stood on the opposite side of the debate and said no. There was really nobody there.
Bookmaker: How has watching sports betting in the US speed up the admission process in Canada?
Burns: There was a lack of recognition for sports betting in Ottawa. This has really been a provincial task since the 1980s. The provinces really oversaw regulation and enforcement of the rules.
There have been very few inquiries or even the need for the federal government to think about the gaming industry over the past 35 years, aside from this inquiry that has been around for about 12 years. The federal government really had no role other than to pass the bill itself. That was what the senators found difficult to find their way around.
Bookmaker: How Big Do You Think Sports Betting Can Be In Canada?
Burns: It really depends on how it’s rolled out. We saw a lot of numbers. We have a very good estimate that the offshore locations are making $ 4 billion to $ 5 billion a year. Organized crime is still making money from the bookmaking business quite aggressively. I think the repatriation of much of this money will be done, and quickly.
I think the growth will come, but it will really depend on how it is offered. Ontario offers the greatest opportunity in the sports betting market as Ontario Sports Betting continues with an open online gaming license separate from this bill.
But when you leave Ontario, still check out some jurisdictions where the lottery company may still be the only sports betting offering. The gray market will continue to live outside of Ontario. That is the other problem.
Could provinces like British Columbia or Quebec initiate a process in which they license private sports betting providers or allow access to their market? Or will British Columbia sports betting and Quebec sports betting continue to operate where only the provinces offer sports betting? If they do this, their gray market will continue to thrive.
So it’s hard to come up with a number at the moment. We hope that a number of jurisdictions will see this as an opportunity to deal with the gray market and begin the process of choosing a regulatory model that is right for them. Not everyone will do that.
Nobody is going to do what Ontario does because it needs a bigger market for that. But the tethering model used in the United States, where there are a limited number of licenses tied to casinos, could be one that other provinces follow. We are waiting for what it is.
Bookmakers: This really is the big unknown of how each province will regulate sports betting.
Burns: You can go a little further and ask, “What retail options are available in each province?” We know that it is primarily a product that is offered online and prominently online on mobile devices (e.g. in sports betting apps).
But sports betting in a casino? Would a lottery company consider it a product available in some form at lottery kiosks? That really changes a lot of things when that happens.
For this reason, many other variables play a role in addition to the size of a market when looking at sales. It can be a year or two before you see what happens.
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Serious sports bettors like to buy odds, so will a provincial lottery do that for everyone? There will be an expanded Pro-Line offer this autumn, but where, how, what? We do not know that. Outside of Ontario, there are still a lot of questions.
Bookmaker: Could the introduction of individual sport betting be ready by Labor Day?
Burns: We are waiting for a small hurdle. It is up to the cabinet to propose an enactment date. They haven’t done that yet. We expect them to do so soon. I think they can (be up and running by Labor Day) because some provinces want to go really fast.
British Columbia via PlayNow.com they have a very robust sports betting offering on this platform. Your backend was originally built by Paddy Power. It’s just a tad away from doing what they need to. You are probably ready. In Quebec and other provinces they are preparing their platforms in the same way.
So online, yeah, I can see it (until Labor Day). Can we see retail and sports betting in casinos? We hope soon. This is the next phase.
The casino industry really wants to have a product offering in their facilities in time for the fall sports season and that is going to take a lot of work. I know Ontario wants to see this. The gray market works today. Ontario will open its online marketplace towards the end of the year so everyone will have to start following the Ontario rules and paying their share of the sales fees.
Bookmaker: Do you think the offshore sites will leave the gray market and join the regulated market in Canada?
Burns: Most do. I spoke to a few dozen sports betting – from the US operators like PointsBet and DraftKings and FanDuel, but also the European sites – Betway, Bet365.
They are all very interested in the market. In the online space where there is a marketplace, a legal marketplace with the right terms that Ontario is trying to make sure it gets right, people sign up. I suspect there will be a very robust market.