Joe Comartin vs. The NHL

by Aaron Wherry

The NHL joins Major League Baseball in opposing Joe Comartin’s bill on sports betting.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has added his voice to the debate, saying in an emailed statement to Postmedia News: “We too oppose the proposed legislation and we hope to have the opportunity to voice our concerns to the Canadian Senate in the near future.”

Now that Joe Comartin is the deputy speaker, the NDP’s Brian Masse seems to be the lead spokesman for the bill, but here is the speech Mr. Comartin gave in the House a year ago when it was presented for second reading.

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-290 is a very short bill; basically one paragraph and a little over one line. If it were to ultimately becomes law, it would delete one section of the Criminal Code. The overall theme of the bill is to deal with a problem that we have in the country with regard to gaming, specifically being able to bet on sporting events.

As it is now, paragraph 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code prohibits the gaming on a single sports event in Canada. The effect of that does have some very serious consequences and I will go into that in more detail. However, by way of introduction, the primary purpose behind this bill is twofold: first, to create greater employment opportunities in the gaming industry in Canada and in all the provinces who pick this up; and second, at least as important, it is a blow against organized crime that has captured, controls and is making huge profits from it, as ascertained by all the reports.

It is important to set this in a historical context. If we go back and study this closely, the laws on gaming in this country go back to the 1600s in England. I forget who the king was at the time, but it was in a period of time when he was very worried about his military gambling excessively. Laws were then passed in Westminster to prohibit all gambling in the country.

Over the centuries we have eroded that position. In fact, to follow the history in my riding, my predecessor, Shaughnessy Cohen, moved a similar amendment to the Criminal Code that allowed for betting at roulette tables, which was prohibited at the time. It allowed for roulette tables to come into casinos in the country. Following in that tradition, this is one of those periods of time when we should have our criminal law catch up with the reality of what is happening in our society.

In 1985 the federal government effectively gave up the administration of gaming operations to the provinces. It was one of those periods of time when there was some trade-offs going on with regard to revenue sources. This was a mechanism for the federal government to create new revenue sources for the provinces. Since that time a number of provinces have moved into gaming in a variety of ways: lotteries, casinos, additional betting being allowed at racetracks, and we can go down the list.

The role that gaming plays in provincial revenues has become quite significant. It is now literally billions of dollars across the country. In some cases, provinces have declined to take on those operations, but in other cases, provinces have taken them on wholeheartedly and have expanded their revenue base as a result.

To the point where we are with this particular expansion, the provinces would determine how they would implement this. From talking to various provincial administrations, there is a variety of suggestions if the bill becomes law, but ultimately the provision of gaming on single sporting events would vary across the country.

For instance, one province is considering allowing the casinos operated by first nations to take this type of gaming under their control. Obviously, the province would still administer it, but the bulk of the revenue would go to the casinos operated by first nations.

One province in particular is thinking of a very broad expansion using the British model. The gaming would take place in a variety of settings in that province.

In my home province of Ontario, as I understand it at this point, the primary thrust would be to allow the large commercial casinos, the casinos operated for charitable purposes that are smaller operations and potentially the racetracks, to do the administration. It would not expand it into the broader society as some of the other provinces are considering.

Whatever the model is, it is determined by the individual provinces, and some provinces may not take it up at all.

I would note at this point that both the Province of Ontario and the Province of British Columbia are on record with letters to the federal justice minister asking him to proceed with this type of amendment. The government up to this point has not proceeded that way, although I am expecting, and I may be overly optimistic because this is a private member’s bill, substantial support from the government side as well as from our colleagues in the Liberal Party.

I will turn now to the real thrust behind this and I will deal with the criminal element first. There is no question that this type of gaming is illegal in Canada as well as in all of the United States, except for Nevada, where it is in fact legal. The casinos in Nevada do allow for single event betting. However, all of the other states and Canada prohibit it.

The end result of that prohibition has been that organized crime has moved into this field in a very big way. We have estimates from the U.S. of revenues coming in to organized crime at a minimum of $80 billion a year. I will repeat that, because when I say that, most people think I said “million”, but I said “billion”. At the low end it is $80 billion, with the estimate running to $380 billion to $400 billion at the high end. That is in the United States. With some of the information we have from our security services in Canada, the estimate is that a minimum of $10 billion is wagered in Canada each year, and it may be as high as $40 billion. That is the type of revenue we are talking about.

All of that money is going into the hands of organized crime. We do not believe that any substantive amount is going into other people’s hands. It is controlled by the large criminal organizations, most of which are based in the U.S., but some of which are based here in Canada.

Some of this betting is also taking place offshore through the Internet. A number of those Internet sites are located in the Caribbean, where there is no ability for either the Canadian government or the U.S. government to thwart that type of activity over the Internet.

It is a situation where this activity is going on. Certainly there are people who argue that we are just expanding the ability of people to become problem gamblers. I do not believe that to be the case at all. This gambling is going on right now, all within the control of organized crime as best we can determine.

We are talking about taking it out of the hands of those in organized crime, a strong way to reduce the revenue they are generating, and move it into the hands, in our case, of provincial governments. Let them use the revenue for the purposes of operating their government.

The second reason I have been an advocate for this legislation is the potential it has for creating employment. Obviously it would create a substantial amount of revenue for provinces, but in addition, we ultimately would see some of that as jobs are created at the federal level.

As recently as September, the Canadian Gaming Association, which has a number of gaming groups around the country as part of its association, did an economic analysis of what would occur if this were allowed to become law in Canada and we could have this type of gaming going on. It is of particular interest to me because the city of Windsor is the host of one of the largest casinos in the country; I think it is the largest, but there may be one or two of the same size.

The estimate was that the number of additional jobs or the securing of existing jobs in the Windsor casino, just that one casino, would be somewhere between 150 to 250. Some jobs would be saved because there have been some layoffs recently because of competition that we are getting from the U.S. side and just because of the general economic downturn that we have had recently, but we would secure those jobs or create new jobs.

The association did a similar analysis for the casinos, interestingly, in Niagara Falls, the home riding of the Minister of Justice, and came up with a similar number of jobs being secured or jobs that would be created. That is true across a number of other areas in Ontario and elsewhere in the country.

There is a very strong reason from that vantage point, not only the revenue that this would create for the provinces but, more specifically, the jobs it would create at the lower level.

I have spoken to some of my colleagues who have charity casinos in their ridings. They feel that a similar impact would occur. A number of these are situated along the U.S.-Canada border, and we draw a lot of trade from the U.S. side. For instance, in the casino in Windsor, the estimates continue to run that somewhere between 75% and 80% of the revenue comes from the U.S. side of the border. That is true even for some of the charity casinos. It is certainly true for Niagara.

The important part is that allowing for this type of gaming would attract tourist trade into Canada. People would come over. I always tell the story that I happened to be in Las Vegas when one of the national basketball tournaments was on. I remember sitting in Caesars, actually on the floor with all these students who were watching the game, knowing that they had placed bets on the game. That is the kind of tourism we would be attracting on our side of the border.

Let me indicate the support that we have had. I have already indicated that both the Province of Ontario and the Province of British Columbia have sought this amendment from the federal government. A number of municipalities, including the City of Niagara Falls and the City of Windsor, the Canadian Gaming Association, the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation have all indicated their support. They have an appreciation from working in this field and this part of the economy of what the consequences would be and are quite supportive that this would go ahead.

I will summarize the reasons for supporting this bill. It would be a blow against organized crime and a potential job creator for the economy. As well, it would move additional revenue into the hands of the provinces. It is a very simple amendment. It does not require a great deal of understanding of what we are doing or why. I would encourage all members of the House to support this bill.




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