Sports Betting in North America


Sports Betting in North America – Where Are We Now?

The sports betting scene in North America, aka – the US and Canada, has been on somewhat of a roller coaster ride these past few months, with drastic changes occurring which many never thought would ever become a reality. Recent events in the US, which included the Supreme Court of the United States overturning the decades old PASPA law, surprised a number of sports betting experts and gave sports fans across the continent, new hope for the future of US sports betting. But how did the overturning of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, come about? What were the major factors that contributed to the landmark decision by SCOTUS? Perhaps a more pertinent question would be, did the events surrounding the new Canadian sports betting bill influence the Supreme Court’s decision?

The Proposed Canadian Sports Betting Bill

In 2016 a New Canadian Sports Betting Bill was proposed to the House of Commons in Ottawa by Ottawa MP Brian Masse. The bill, known as C-221, was submitted as a private member’s bill and was not part of the federal government’s current legislative agenda. The bill was essentially aimed at single sports betting in Canada and included legislation to allow Canadian provinces the right to conduct and manage a ‘lottery scheme that included betting on a race or on a fight, or on a single sport event or athletic contest’.

At the time of its proposal, the New Canadian Sports Betting Bill was considered to be the most reasonable and inclusive piece of proposed legislation regarding the state of Canadian sports betting to date. Masse’s bill had garnered strong support from within his own home constituency of Windsor, a border town just across the river from the US state of Michigan. At the same time as Massey had proposed his new sports bill for Canada, US State Senator Mike Kowall had just submitted his own bill to allow state regulated sports betting and online gambling in the US.

Masse’s new sports betting bill for Canadian sports betting had also received considerable support from the Windsor – Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, with Chamber of Commerce President Matt Marchand stating that he believed the proposed bill would bring much needed support to the local economy. This makes sense since the city of Windsor features a Caesars casino and would be perfectly poised to provide competitive sports betting in the future. Marchand further stated that “This would be a new gaming product and would allow Caesars Windsor to be first in the market place.” and added that “And we know once people experience Caesars Windsor they will come back and that will help drive tourism, jobs and revenue for the region.”

The bill could have also given those Canadian casinos closest to the US border and those available online, the necessary competitive edge, particularly in areas such as Ohio and Michigan, where cross border competition is at its highest. However, the bill also faced stiff opposition, mostly from liberal MP’s like Sean Casey who were primarily concerned that single-even sports betting would lead to more gambling problems for citizens as well as other issues regarding potential match fixing across the board.

However, Masse’s counter-argument was that sports betting generates revenues in excess of $10 billion each year and that legislation was the best way to prevent ‘criminal elements’ from dominating the market. While the proposed bill was unsuccessful, its influence on events and decision in the US were unmistakable. To date, Canada has yet to update their gambling laws, despite recent events in the US regarding the overturning of PASA and many sports bettors and experts agree that Canada could fall drastically behind the US in the ever-growing sports betting market. In fact, in a recent statement, Paul Burns, the president of the Canadian Gaming Association or CGA stated:  “It’s unfortunate that Canadian Parliament has had a couple of chances to modernize our gaming laws but chose not to. Provinces requested a simple amendment to our criminal code seven years ago, which would have provided greater regulatory oversight and control to sports wagering to protect consumers, athletes and the integrity of sport. This request has fallen on deaf ears.”

How the USSC’s PASPA Ruling is Changing US Sports Betting

In May 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA)  in a 6 – 3 ruling. The act had made it illegal for any US state, with the exception of Nevada, to offer regulated sports betting on football, basketball, baseball, hockey and other sports.

During the SCOTUS ruling, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

Leading the charge in getting the PASPA ruling overturned was the state of New Jersey, a long time campaigner for the legalization of sports betting at casinos and at racetracks throughout that state. It makes sense that New Jersey would be the strongest advocate for the overturning of PASPA considering that Atlantic City is already perfectly poised to launch straight into sports betting, both on the ground and online. Prior to the SCOTUS ruling, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had stated that, should the ruling favour New Jersey, sports betting could be available within two weeks, starting with Monmouth Park racetrack located at New Jersey Shore.

Since the overturning of the PASPA law, over a dozen states have already initiated their own legislation, paving the way for established sports betting in casinos and other venues. A research firm recently estimated that over 32 US states would be offering sports betting within the next five years. Hopefully Canada will follow suit within the near future, opening the way for a far more competitive and ultimately healthy sports betting industry that can go head to head with the expanding US sports betting markets.