Martin Lycka – O Canada when will you revamp sports betting?

Despite all the sports betting regulatory action in the US following last week’s votes, GVC Holdings Senior Vice President of US Regulatory Affairs & Responsible Gambling Martin Lycka is looking at the reaction further north.

The fearless men who stand on guard at the Ontario border, through snow, wind and sleet, noticed something rapidly whirling through the plains of Michigan to the west. At first, they could not fathom what it was. Could it be a wild beast intent on throwing itself on them or some kind of a mysterious vehicle from hell; bent on ripping through the border control post? The men were at the ready; the object was picking up speed, getting closer and closer.

And then, with brakes screeching, it ground to a halt right at the point where the two state borders meet. The border guard realised that while the object was fast approaching, it would not be able to cross the border here. At least, not yet. The fast moving online gambling regulation would have to wait a little longer.

The guard recalled reports of the US Supreme Court revoking a law called PASPA, which triggered a tidal wave of state-by-state sports betting and internet gaming regulation in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Neighbouring Michigan has jumped on the bandwagon that has been sweeping through the American territory. The border man looked to the east, towards the city of Toronto, to see whether he would glean any signals that the homeland was to go down a regulatory route that would allow for licensing of private operators as well.

But a cursory look at the Canadian statutory books would show that the existing Canadian regulatory picture is a combination of tribal legislation and state-owned lottery operators. Every Canadian province has a lottery that offers a variety of gambling products, even internet gaming in some places, with British Colombia and Manitoba blazing that particular trail. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation launched its PlayOLG platform back in 2015; Alberta has been toying with the idea of remote gambling legislation too..

To complicate things further, the Canadian Penal Code provides for a ban on single sports wagering. In practical terms this means that one has to opt for a parlay bet to stay within the law of the land, but the situation sees players creatively pairing choices with extreme odds-on favourites, such as Wayne Gretzky outscoring Tie Domi in a one on one hockey game.

This single sports bet ban has been untouched for years, but now represents a thorn in the side of the North American Major Leagues (particularly those that feature Canadian teams) in their efforts to capitalise on the explosion of legal sports betting in the US.

Letters have been sent to the federal legislators in Ottawa; a Private Member’s Bill designed to revoke the ban, which is currently making its way through the Federal Parliament, has been filed.

The Ontario authorities had not been idling either. They had conducted a number of consultations across the industry, both domestic and foreign, as well as other stakeholders with a view to determining the most efficient regulatory way forward.
Having digested all this intelligence and ruminated upon the matter yet a bit more, a signal was finally sent to the heroic border man on the day of this year’s Fall Budget Bill – Ontario will want to regulate internet gaming; the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will be regulator. Ontario has thus answered the initial regulatory question with a resounding yes.

To answer the “how to regulate” question the authorities envisage launching another set of public consultations. These will cover the future regulation, taxation as well as applicable product and technical requirements.

Ontario could soon become a leading Canadian light in this space and potentially start off a nationwide regulatory modernisation, with other provinces following in its footsteps.

The border guard received this initial signal with a glowing heart, knowing that he can look into Michigan in the knowledge that there is nothing to fear of this project and that it could see his own glorious land rise further still.

Pic caption: USA TODAY Sports/SIPA USA/PA Images

 

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