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Canadians Can’t Bet on Sport Because Our Democracy Is a Garbage Heap

Just let me waste my money in peace, Big Government.

by Justin Ling
Apr 21 2016, 2:11pm


Just one of the many sporting events we would like to bet on if we were allowed. Photo via Facebook

If there's one thing you must know about me, it's that I love sports.

Basketsball, hackey (both ice and sack), crochet, American foosball, whatever racketball is.

I love them all.

But since I have the athletic prowess of a lobotomized sloth with an inner-ear infection, I don't play any sports themselves. I do, however, in my rolodex of personal weaknesses, have a penchant for gambling.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that, in Canada, you can not bet on a sport.

You can bet on sports.

But not a sport.

Hang on. Let me explain. I said let me explain, dammit.

Sections 201 through 207 of the Criminal Code lay out the legal conditions around what does, and doesn't, constitute legal gambling — so help me god if you close this browser window now I will reach through your monitor and — and they're, generally, pretty arcane.

Now, there's lots of outdated things in the Criminal Code — in a section on witchcraft, the federal law swears that: "Every one who fraudulently...pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found, is guilty of an offence."

Another section reads that nobody should be found guilty of murder "where he causes the death of a human being by any influence on the mind alone," but, lest you get worried: "this section does not apply where a person causes the death of a child or sick person by wilfully frightening him."

Obviously, the RCMP aren't going around arresting fortunetellers or Professor X.

But governments are, however, regulating how you can-and-can't bet on sports.

The Criminal Code says that gambling, so long as it meets a bunch of other criteria, is legal unless it includes: "three-card monte," which is bad news if you live on a riverboat in 1926; a "dice game," in case you're throwing dice in the alley when Officer Leroy is around; or whether you bet "on a single sport event or athletic contest."

In other words: if you bet on a hockey game, you're breaking the law. If you bet on three hockey games, you're a law abiding citizen.

The way most provinces operate the system is that you must bet on the outcomes of three or more games that take place on the same night, and your winnings depend on the outcomes of all of them.

But, wait, you say incredulously: that makes no sense!

Canadians agree with you.

A poll conducted by Forum Research, provided exclusively to VICE, shows that 37 percent of Ontarians think that gamblers should be able to put money down on a single game. For some reason, 28 percent disagree with that premise. The other third of Ontarians have no idea what to think, and were probably asking their phone: "people can't bet on single sports games?"

Of those asked, nearly half of those under 45 agreed that the government should drop the absurdly outdated law, while the older crowd was less supportive.

So, why should we change this? Here's two good reasons.

One: because the government isn't our goddamn mommy, and if responsible adults want to slam a six pack, spark a joint, and lose $50 by taking the 10:1 odds that the Leafs will beat, well, anyone — they should be free to do so.

Two: the Americans have patchy gambling laws. Generally speaking, most American gamblers have to wager online, or in person, in Nevada (where everything is legal.) If we, as Canadians, can recognize that OKing betting on sports won't lead to the collapse of our advanced civilization, Americans may be inclined to grab a few Canadian dollars and put that cash down in Windsor or Niagara. A 2011 estimate put the value of that cross-border betting at roughly $100 million a year.

There's been efforts to fix things. The NDP have introduced legislation, dating back to 2010, to simply strike out the bit in the Criminal Code that sets all these idiotic limitations.

In 2011, the bill actually passed the House of Commons. It—and this never happens—passed through the House without a vote. Everyone just... agreed on it.

And then it was delivered to the garbage heap that is the Senate of Canada.

"There will be good odds of this passing," said the Liberal-appointed Senator Terry Mercer in the Senate.

"This bill was put forward in the other place by Mr. Comartin and was supported by all parties," agreed Senator Bob Runciman. "In fact, members of all parties spoke in favour of this legislation. The provinces, particularly Ontario and British Columbia, have asked for this change."

That was March 12, 2012. What followed was a Kafkaesque exercise in Parliamentary democracy.

In March, some debate happened. In April, there was a bit of back in forth. By May, Senator Norman Doyle stands up to say he has some concerns with the bill.

"The question we could ask is, why should we be concerned? After all, 'freedom of choice' are the buzzwords today" — OK, that has literally been a buzzword since the era where who civilians were destroyed by volcanos but OK — "if I want to gamble, then I can gamble."

GO ON.

"The Canada Safety Council estimates that over 200 gambling-related suicides take place in Canada every year. It could be more," the Doyle told the Senate. He then promised to ban poverty, forbid smiles, and prosecute anyone caught not having a nice day.

But the Senator raised a point. Maybe it was even a valid point. That happens all the time. It was voted on. It passed. Five months later it came to a committee. Two months after that, the committee sent it back to the Senate without amendment.

By then, it's nearly the end of 2012 and Senator Runciman is back up, reminding Senators that pretty much everyone supports this bill. Debate grinds on. February, March, May.

June 2013, the bill is still stalled. Senators keep getting up to clutch pearls on all the lives that gambling will ruin. The government prorogued Parliament and the bill goes back to square one in the Senate. It takes another year — a YEAR – for the bill to get back to committee, where it had already been studied.

Now, Senators have done a song-and-dance about how the House of Commons didn't adequately study the bill and only they—the dignified Senators—understand that this bill will have very bad consequences. They had representatives from the NHL, NFL, and elsewhere show up to explain why it would be a bad thing. Their logic is basically that sports betting allows for match-fixing (despite the fact that betting is already allowed in Vegas and pretty much everywhere else in the world) and they worry about the integrity of the game.

Those are pretty weak reasons. That's like music promoters demanding that we get rid of alcohol at concerts in order to protect the integrity of the guitar solo. And it's not everyone. The NBA initially came out against C-290, only to turn around and drop their opposition to it. "The NBA is no longer opposed to legalized sports betting in Canada so long as there is an appropriate legislative framework that protects the integrity of the game under strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards," reads a statement from the basketball association.

Nevertheless, the bill, after four long, long years, dies on the Senate floor when an election is called in the summer of 2015.

None of that history may interest you. But remember that it is the exact same ploy that the Senate used to strangle legislation that would offer human rights protections for trans Canadians.

The black ops routine from the Senate basically lets them shoot down democratically-passed legislation without ever having to actually do so. And that's bad. That's very bad.

But now, the NDP's legislation is back. Now, the problem is that the Liberals oppose it.

"It is possible, as suggested by many sports leagues, that legalizing single-event sports betting could encourage gamblers to fix games," Liberal MP Sean Casey told the House. "The current parlay system of betting makes it unattractive to fix a game, because the only way to achieve a guaranteed payout would be to rig multiple events, which would be much more difficult to accomplish. Single-event sports betting would make a fraudster's task easier, since only one event would need to be fixed."

THAT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE.

Gambling already exists. Except, now, it's either through the office pool run by Dave in Accounting — who leaves you wondering: 'is this his entire life?' — or through the goddamn mafia.

I have a hard time believing that legalizing sports betting and letting people put money down $20 at their local Kwik-E-Mart through the Ontario Lotto and Gaming Corporation is going to really sweeten the deal for Phil Kessel to tank even harder.

For the love of god, you rubes, just pass this bill. Stop trying to micromanage every idiotic decision I want to make. Let me waste my money in peace.

Follow Justin Bling on Twitter.

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