Canadian officialdom may not like the idea of Internet gambling too much, but they apparently have a different approach to land sportsbetting. The Toronto Star reports that the Canadian federal government, along with Ontario provincial officials is seriously considering the introduction of Las Vegas-style sportsbetting in provincial [land] casinos
Declining land casino business in Niagara Falls and Windsor has created a need for amendments to the law in order to permit land casinos to offer sportsbetting, and gambling companies have appealed at federal and provincial level for this to be allowed.
The newspaper reports that Ontario casinos already have sportsbook infrastructure in place with TV screens, scoreboards and seating, but betting is limited to the government operated Pro-Line, in which bettors select the outcomes of three or more sports contests on a "parlay" ticket.
The new proposal would allow gamblers to wager the outcome of individual football, baseball, hockey, basketball, soccer and other games as opposed to the multiple "parlay" betting that exists under Pro-Line.
Although the changes have been requested for land casinos, if granted the changes could embrace racetrack activity as well.
The former Ontario provincial minister, David Caplan forwarded the request to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson last year, the Toronto Star reveals, commenting that Nicholson, whose constituency in Niagara Falls, has been receptive to Caplan's request, leading to "quiet cooperation between the departments", although no timeframes have yet been set.
Ontario casinos could gain a significant advantage over American competitors if the changes are made. Sportsbook betting is only allowed in Las Vegas in the U.S., largely because professional sports leagues are opposed to the concept in cities that have football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams.
Strong political support for the measure seems likely.
NDP MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh) told the newspaper that he has approached Nicholson several times – including as recently as last month – to express his support. He said sports betting would give the casinos in Windsor and Niagara Falls "a major competitive advantage" since it is not allowed in Michigan or New York and is only available in 150 Nevada gaming houses.
"What it would do is generate traffic into the casino for that particular type of betting and then you also pick up additional business," he said, adding other provinces are also lobbying Ottawa for the change.
With provincial gambling revenues projected to drop to $1.77 billion this year – down from $2.02 billion in 2005-06 – Comartin said casino communities need help.
Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak (Niagara West-Glanbrook) has written to Nicholson, urging him to move quickly on the proposal. "Unfortunately, Niagara residents have experienced recent layoffs at Niagara's casinos and a significant decline in patronage at the Fort Erie racetrack due to increased competition in New York state, a less favourable exchange rate and other border issues," Hudak wrote.
"Furthermore, a properly regulated, trusted and professional sportsbook would help reduce the growing illegal sports betting taking place in Ontario and by Ontario residents on offshore and unregulated Internet sites."
Jim Warren, a former senior official at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission who is currently building a new casino in Moncton, N.B., said sports betting, which is not allowed anywhere in Canada, is a good tourist draw. "In order to attract Americans to the border casinos in Windsor and Niagara Falls, you have to provide them with exciting entertainment opportunities and no one loves sports more than Americans," said Warren.
"You also want to better compete with the Internet and you would actually give a legal outlet for activities that are happening illegally," he said.
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