CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie Photo: Johany Jutras
By Justin Dunk
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie believes legalizing single-game sports betting in Canada can boost the league’s revenue in a way that has never been possible before.
Ambrosie made the CFL’s case to the Senate’s standing committee on banking, trade, and commerce Wednesday night. Being able to place wagers on individual football games has the full support of the league and all nine member franchises.
“We don’t think we’ve seen an opportunity for revenue enhancement to any degree like we have seen and we see in this particular Bill C-218. Perhaps a once in a generation opportunity for revenue enhancement at a time when we desperately need it,” Ambrosie said.
“This may be one of the single biggest opportunities that the Canadian Football League has ever faced and it couldn’t happen at a better time. We’ve gone through a very challenging environment with the COVID pandemic, we see this as a recipe for a quicker recovery as we come out of it.”
The league lost between $60 and $80 million last year after the 2020 season was cancelled following the denial of a $30 million interest-free loan by the federal government. Like other Canadian businesses Ambrosie conceded the league was “dramatically effected” by the coronavirus, but he would not provide a number for the estimated economic impact Bill C-218 could have on the CFL.
Canadian Gaming Association president Paul Burns estimates over $7 billion would flow in to the legal market right away and in the next five years that could grow to approximately $28 billion and beyond. The CFL could see a substantial amount of that money come there way if Bill C-218 is approved.
“Canada has had legal sports wagering for decades — it’s time to level the playing field. It’s time to give Canadian gaming operators the opportunity to offer the same product in a legal, licensed and highly regulated environment. And to have the benefits flow back to our communities and the public good,” Burns said.
Canadians wager approximately $500 million through legal sports lottery products offered by the provinces every year. If single-game sports betting is legalized, Burns estimates over $1 billion in revenue can flow back in to the lottery corporations.
In 1985 the federal and provincial governments agreed that provinces would have the exclusive right to operate and regulate gaming within their jurisdictions. Over the past 35 years, provincial governments have worked to create safe and highly regulated gaming environments, implementing world class responsible gambling programs.
“Only by regulating single-event sports wagering can we be sure that consumers are protected, that athletes and sports are protected, and that the economic benefits stay in the provinces in which they’re generated, and that Canadian businesses can compete on a level playing field,” Burns said.
Annually, Canadians place over $4 billion in wagers with offshore, online sports books, and approximately $10 billion with bookmaking operations run by organized crime. That proves Canadians do like to bet on sports. Burns sees the potential growth going beyond the current wagering and a lot of the illegal market place shifting to being legal and regulated.
“This legislation is long overdue, it has been long awaited and it should be considered swiftly before the summer recess,” Ambrosie said. “With the possibility of a fall election in the news, we fear that a delay would mean this bill could die on the order paper.”
If Bill C-218 is passed by July 16, which is the Senate’s summer recess date, Burns envisions legal single-game sports betting being ready to take wagers by the September long weekend. That would give a whole new meaning to the CFL’s motto: the season doesn’t start until Labour Day.