Published October 23, 2012 - 1:45pm
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As the NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues continue their lawsuit to overturn a voter-approved New Jersey constitutional amendment to permit sports betting in that state’s casinos, the NCAA upped the ante this week by announcing it would “relocate” six national championship events previously scheduled to take place in the Garden State–including a Division I women’s basketball regional–in retaliation for the voters’ decision. The NCAA claimed this was necessary to enforce an internal rule prohibiting any championship event from taking place in a state where single-game betting is legal. Currently, only Nevada casinos accept such bets.
According to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, a spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the NCAA’s actions “ludicrous and hypocritical” given that illegal sports gambling already takes place in New Jersey and every other state, “often with the participation of organized crime.” Wetzel noted that no other league has followed the NCAA’s lead, including the NFL, which is still scheduled to hold the Super Bowl in New Jersey in February 2014.
Meanwhile, the NCAA faces an international threat to its hard-line prohibitionist stance from Canada. The Canadian Senate is currently considering legislation that would allow provincial governments to offer the exact type of sports wagering that New Jersey wants to conduct. Existing Canadian law already permits betting on multi-game parlays, but it is a criminal offense to accept bets on “a single sport event or athletic contest.” The new legislation simply eliminates this prohibition.
Canada’s House of Commons passed the bill, known as C-290, in March of this year. The bill’s sponsor, Ontario Member of Parliament (MP) Joe Comartin, who is also the House’s deputy speaker, said legalizing single-game betting “would attract tourist trade into Canada” by offering American sports gamblers a convenient alternative to Nevada. Comartin told the House that Ontario and British Columbia’s provincial governments were solidly behind legalization, which he said would also deal a serious blow to illegal bookmaking operations:
The end result of  prohibition has been that organized crime has moved into this field in a very big way. We have estimates from the U.S. of revenues coming in to organized crime at a minimum of $80 billion a year. I will repeat that, because when I say that, most people think I said “million”, but I said “billion”. At the low end it is $80 billion, with the estimate running to $380 billion to $400 billion at the high end. That is in the United States. With some of the information we have from our security services in Canada, the estimate is that a minimum of $10 billion is wagered in Canada each year, and it may be as high as $40 billion. That is the type of revenue we are talking about.
All of that money is going into the hands of organized crime. We do not believe that any substantive amount is going into other people’s hands. It is controlled by the large criminal organizations, most of which are based in the U.S., but some of which are based here in Canada.
Although Comartin is a member of the New Democratic Party, a left-of-center group that forms the official opposition in the House, C-290 was supported by all other parties, including the governing Conservative Party. Robert Gougen, a New Brunswick Conservative MP who serves as parliamentary secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General Rob Nicholson (who represents casino-rich Niagra Falls), told the House that “allowing single sport betting, even through a provincial lottery scheme, is far more appropriate than what is currently happening in this country.” Sean Casey, a Liberal Party MP from Prince Edward Island, also spoke in favor of C-290, noting, “Regulated gaming provides a legitimate way for Canadians to gamble and, to be frank, it is a significant source of revenue for governments.”
Having passed the House without a single dissenting vote, C-290 only requires approval from the 105-member Canadian Senate before being signed into law by Governor General David Johnston. Unlike the United States, where the Senate is an elected and equal body to the House of Representatives, Canadian senators are appointed by the government and serve primarily as a body to revise legislation. The Senate rarely rejects bills adopted by the elected House.
A Senate committee has already held three days of hearings this month on C-290, interviewing nearly two dozen witnesses. One issue the committee has looked at is the possible impact of legalized sports betting on gambling addiction. Jeffrey Derevensky, a psychiatry professor from McGill University, testified that C-290 will likely lead to “an increase in gambling behavior, especially among young males.” He said that while “young males tend to think they are very knowledgeable on sports gambling,” legalizing single-game betting alone was unlikely to lead to an increase in gambling addiction: “If one looks at pathological gambling rates internationally, with the vast expansion of legalized gambling — Internet gambling, land-based casinos, lotteries and horse racing — we have not seen significant changes in the prevalence of pathological gambling.
The committee also heard from Peter Cohen, an Australian consultant who formerly headed the gambling commission for the State of Victoria, where sports betting has been legal for several years. “The Australian model provides a safe environment where people can choose where they want to bet, knowing that the products are safe and that the integrity of the sport is enhanced,” he testified, adding that in Victoria, the state regulator actually certifies sports leagues to ensure “they have an appropriate integrity regime” in place before wagering is permitted on games. For example, the Australian Football League requires teams to publish their active rosters each Thursday before weekend matches; this is to comply with Victoria’s gambling code requirements, Cohen said.
The Australian and Canadian governments’ views on sport betting obviously stand in sharp contrast to the prohibitionist approach adopted by the United States Congress at the urging of the NCAA and the professional leagues. But while few SEC fans would travel to Australia just to bet on the Iron Bowl, Canada provides a much more accessible option, esecially for those fans who are within a few hours’ drive of casinos in Windsor or Niagra Falls. “Saturday Up North” may not only prove to be a new marketing slogan for cash-strapped Canadian provinces; it may also provide the impetus to drive political leaders in this country to reconsider the federal law keeping every state outside Nevada–and perhaps New Jersey, depending on the NCAA’s lawsuit–from legally accepting bets on college football.