A ‘rainbow coalition’ supporting Canada’s C-290 single-game sports betting legislation will hold a rally on Friday in Windsor, Ontario. Windsor is the constituency of Brian Masse, New Democratic Party member of parliament and a strong backer of C-290, which was passed by the House of Commons in March 2012 with all-party support, only to face resistance in Canada’s Senate, an unelected body that rejects legislation passed by the lower House about as often as Halley’s Comet does an Earth drive-by. The Senate will break for its summer recess at the end of June but Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton has suggested that she’ll push to ensure private member’s bills like C-290 come up for a vote before senators start slathering on the sunscreen.
The Windsor rally will also feature Kevin Lafore, CEO of the Caesars Windsor casino, Matt Marchand, president of the local Chamber of Commerce and Dino Chiodo, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 444, which counts among its members some 2,700 of Caesars Windsor’s 3,500 employees. Masse’s office issued a statement saying it was “a unique circumstance to see both labor and business on the same side strongly supporting the same piece of legislation. It speaks to the strength of the proposal and the urgency to pass C-290 immediately.”
C-290 NOT TOTALLY FRIENDLESS IN SENATE
Meanwhile, debate on C-290 was revived in the Senate on Monday and for a change, the Senator who stood to discuss C-290 was actually in favor of its passage. Liberal Sen. Terry Mercer immediately went for the anti-C-290 side’s jugular, stating emphatically that “legalizing this type of betting does not increase problem gambling or excessive gambling.” Much of the previous debate had involved wholly unsubstantiated claims to the contrary (and vastly inflated suicide statistics), but Mercer insists “the scientific data proves otherwise. I know some people do not believe in scientific data, but it is there.”
To back up his words, Mercer cited a 2007 study by the Division on Addiction of the Cambridge Health Alliance at Harvard University titled Assessing the Playing Field: A Prospective Longitudinal Study of Internet Sports Gambling Behavior. The study involved 42,647 Bwin customers in 80 countries with an average age of 31, the overwhelming majority of which had demonstrated an ability to moderate their betting behavior based on their success ratio, i.e. if a bettor’s losses mounted, the number of wagers and the dollar value of their wagers decreased accordingly.
The study found that nearly all (99%) sports bettors were ‘moderate’ gamblers, placing an average of four to five bets per week at an average stake of just €4, leading to a weekly loss of €2. The other 1% were deemed to be ‘involved’ gamblers, who placed 16 bets per week on match outcomes with stakes averaging €44, resulting in a weekly loss of €50. The ‘involved’ group were far more active in their in-play wagers, placing 42 bets per week at around €53 per bet, resulting in a loss of €66. The ranks of ‘involved’ gamblers were also higher (5%) among poker and casino gambling than in sports betting.
Mercer quoted the study’s authors saying their findings “do not support the speculation that Internet gambling has an inherent propensity to encourage excessive gambling among a large proportion of players.” (Similar findings were revealed in a 2011 Harvard Medical School study by Howard J. Shaffer and Ryan Martin.) Mercer rammed home the point that this was empirical data, not “speculative dogma, as we hear from the opponents of online gambling.”
Unfortunately, Mercer lost points when he invoked the name of a company based out of his hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, that might benefit from Canada legalizing single-game sports betting. That company is online sports betting forum Covers.com, which has yet to atone for its shameful role in the 2011 collapse of US-facing online sportsbook BetEd.com, whose customers are still waiting to be reunited with their long-lost bankrolls. So, while Mercer is to be lauded for injecting some badly needed science into Canada’s sports betting debate, he unwittingly provided his opponents more ammunition to go on stereotyping online sports betting as the last bastion of scoundrels.