Legal Canadian Sports Betting Could Shake Up North American Market

Legal Canadian Sports Betting Could Shake Up North American Market article feature image
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Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images. Pictured: The Canadian flag before a Toronto Blue Jays game.

Canada’s likely 2021 single-game sports betting launch could open up another major North American wagering market while giving a new opportunity — and impetus — for bettors further south.

Canadian officials reaffirmed Wednesday the government’s commitment to nationwide legal wagering. Legislation is advancing through Parliament with hopes single-game wagering could begin by fall 2021.

“There’s tremendous potential for sports betting to take off in Canada, and I definitely think there’s demand from the public,” said Paul Burns, President and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, during an industry conference Wednesday. “It will be a tremendous time ahead.”

In Ontario, Canada’s most populated providence, backers see an opportunity to rival some of America’s largest state markets. With twice the population of New Jersey, which set a U.S. single-month handle record of $803 million in October, Ontario could be one of the continent’s highest-grossing jurisdictions.

It could also be an opportunity for one of America’s most populated states.

New York Looks At Another Neighboring Market

As mobile sports betting legislation lingers in the statehouse, some upstate New York residents could be closer than ever to legal wagering, both literally and figuratively.

Residents of Buffalo, New York’s second-largest metro area, could be among the biggest beneficiaries of legal Canadian sports betting due to its symbiotic relationship with Niagara Falls. More than 10 million people crossed the Niagara River border in 2019 alone, the most of any entry point between the U.S. and Canada. Another 2.5 million people crossed the border at Champlain Rouses Point in New York’s far northeastern corner.

Once the pandemic-induced border restrictions are fully lifted and Canadian sports betting begins, Buffalo residents will be among hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers living a few miles from a legal online wagering market, on top of the nearby retail options at tribal casinos.

It also means New York will border what could be three of the continent’s highest-grossing sports wagering jurisdictions in Ontario as well as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Legal Canadian sports betting is unlikely in and of itself to spark mobile wagering legislation in New York. Even statewide mobile wagering won’t be enough to combat the Canadian offshore market, officials acknowledged during Wednesday’s session of the Betting on Sports America Digital conference, and players in both countries will still solicit unlicensed bookmakers.

Still, as New York faces a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, it will also see a new — and likely substantial — sports betting market to its north. Any U.S. dollars wagered across the border would be much-needed potential tax revenue the state wouldn’t see.

Additional States Could See Impacts

Much of America’s sprawling Canadian border is relatively unpopulated, particularly in the two nations’ western portions, but legal Canadian sports betting could come as several states consider legal wagering in 2021.

Maine, which came just a few votes short of legal sports betting in 2020, could soon see legal wagering in its border neighbors of Quebec and New Brunswick. More than one million people crossed between the U.S. and Canada at the Calais, Maine, entry point in 2019.

Vermont, which is considering a sports betting study bill, also sees a million crossings annually at both its Highgate Springs-Alburg and Derby Line borders with Quebec, the northern terminus for Interstate 89 and 91, respectively. New Hampshire, which allows statewide mobile wagering exclusively through DraftKings, could also have new sports betting options to its north, though it sees far fewer border crossings than its eastern and western neighbors.

U.S. sports betting could boost Canadian wagering as well.

Windsor’s first legal casinos compelled neighboring Detroit, with which it shares the continent’s largest cross-border conurbation, to build its own. With Michigan set to launch the first of as many as 20 online sportsbooks in the next few weeks, it could force Canadian officials to create a robust marketplace of their own to keep residents from crossing the border for legal betting options.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Ron Segev, founding partner of Vancouver-based law firm Segev LLP, during Wednesday’s conference. “I think it’s a positive change.”