Ontario eyes legal single-sports betting in 2021, clock ticks on Senate approval

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BOSTON, MA - MAY 19: Chris Wagner #14 of the Boston Bruins and Justin Schultz #2 of the Washington Capitals fight for the puck in Game Three of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 19, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is seen as the crown jewel by companies eyeing the country's legal single-sports betting market. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The Ontario government is still wagering that sports fans will be able to legally place bets on single games and events by the end of 2021, a bet that hinges on the federal Bill C-218 swiftly clearing hurdles in the Senate.

Ontario released a roadmap on Wednesday for its planned launch of a regulated iGaming market. It states that registered operators “may start offering their products and services to Ontarians” in late 2021, reaffirming a timeline from a government discussion paper released in March.

The province has said “legal single event sports wagering would be a critical component” of its iGaming model, which also includes novelty wagering on events like the Oscars, and peer-to-peer betting on casino games.

Bill C-218 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to allow bets on single sporting events like hockey and football games. Currently, the law allows only bets that combine a minimum of two events, with the exception of horse racing.

The legislation effortlessly advanced from the House of Commons to the Senate in April, backed by overwhelming cross-party support. However, it's unclear how smoothly Bill C-218 will move through the upper chamber and become law.

Sen. David Wells, Bill C-218’s sponsor in the Senate, called on his peers to quickly pass the bill following its second reading on May 4. Proponents of the legislation want the Senate to pass the motion before the chamber adjourns for summer recess on June 25.

Canadian companies such as Score Media and Gaming (SCR.TO)(SCR), Bragg Gaming Group (BRAG.TO), and FansUnite Entertainment (FANS.CN) are eager to tap into an expanded legal sports betting market in their home country, expected to eventually handle nearly $28 billion in bets annually.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is seen as an especially lucrative market by these firms. Aside from its size, lawmakers have indicated that they will not limit how many private companies can register to take bets. That’s caught the attention of major U.S. sports gambling players like DraftKings (DKNG). The American digital gambling giant expects the Canadian online sports betting and iGaming markets will generate as much as US$8 billion in combined revenue

Senators are scheduled to commence a second reading of Bill C-218 next Tuesday. However, the upper chamber prioritizes government-backed legislation ahead of private members bills like Bill C-218, increasing the chance of delays.

There is also a risk that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could prorogue Parliament in order to call an early election. For private member’s bills like C-218, that means the legislation would be automatically reintroduced when a new session begins, adding to the decades-long push to bring single-game betting to Canada.

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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