Opinion

The long-awaited legalization of single-game betting in Canada is more than just a great day for gambers, it should also be a game-changer for pro sports.

The long-awaited legalization of single-game betting in Canada is more than just a great day for gambers, it should also be a game-changer for pro sports.

I'm looking specifically at you, National Hockey League.

For this to truly work and a fair playing field provided for all, strict secrecy surrounding injuries and spotty officiating must go the way of the dodo bird. Otherwise, you'd be wise to hold onto your money and invest it in something less volatile. Perhaps Bitcoin or penny stocks is more your style.

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images / TNS files</p><p>With the advent of single-game wagering in Canada, the NHL under Commissioner Gary Bettman can be expected to be more transparent when it comes to injuries and demanding higher standards of officiating.</p>

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images / TNS files

With the advent of single-game wagering in Canada, the NHL under Commissioner Gary Bettman can be expected to be more transparent when it comes to injuries and demanding higher standards of officiating.

For Exhibit A, I direct you to the ongoing Stanley Cup playoffs. The standard of what is and isn't a penalty doesn't just change from game-to-game, but seemingly period-to-period. And it's bordering on the obscene this spring, threatening to make a mockery of what has been an otherwise memorable tournament filled with huge upsets and wild momentum swings.

Throw in tight-lipped coaches refusing to disclose their lineups or starting goaltenders until moments before puck drop and the long-held practice of nothing more than "upper-body," "lower-body", or, as we've seen here in Winnipeg, "malaise" and "general body soreness" being used to describe various ailments and the status quo simply won't suffice.

Fortunately, there is reason to believe a shift may be on the horizon. The NHL has been a big supporter of Bill C-218, which was approved by the upper chamber in Ottawa Tuesday by a vote of 57-20. It now awaits royal assent to become law, which is akin to being rubber-stamped.

The Senate chamber in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

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The Senate chamber in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

As a result, one expects Gary Bettman and company to follow the lead of other leagues, such as the NFL, NBA and MLB, which have been more transparent when it comes to injuries, lineup decisions and upholding higher standards regarding the enforcement of existing rules.

The private member's bill from Conservative MP Kevin Waugh amends the Criminal Code which previously outlawed wagering on single sporting events, other than horse racing. The basic premise is to keep this money closer to home, since Canadians already turn to foreign gambling sites, casinos and illegal bookmakers to the tune of an estimated $14 billion annually.

Will the NHL follow the lead of other leagues, such as the NFL, which has been more transparent when it comes to injuries, lineup decisions and the enforcement of existing rules? (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, File)

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Will the NHL follow the lead of other leagues, such as the NFL, which has been more transparent when it comes to injuries, lineup decisions and the enforcement of existing rules? (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, File)

It quickly gathered multi-party support as it passed through the House of Commons and now opens the door for provincial governments, which regulate gambling in Canada, to jump right in. Paul Burns, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Gaming Association, recently testified before Parliament that provincial lottery corporations could be ready to start taking single bets through their websites by Labour Day.

How does $100 on the Bombers to beat the Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium sound?

Until now, you could bet on sports games in Canada, but only through more-risky parlays in the form of things like Sports Select. But times have changed, specifically due to the online explosion, and it's good to see that finally reflected in legislation that had been tried, only to fail, several times in the past.

The first-ever North American in-arena Sportsbook just opened last month at Capital One Arena in Washington following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018 which struck down a law prohibiting sports gaming. Similar venues are being planned in other states, with the full blessing of all the major pro sports leagues.

Imagine being able to bet on the outcome of the Labour Day Classic between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. (Mark Taylor / The Canadian Press files)

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Imagine being able to bet on the outcome of the Labour Day Classic between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. (Mark Taylor / The Canadian Press files)

As a result, there's been an explosion of information on that front, including betting information making its way into specific broadcasts and advertising popping up at various stadiums and parks. Recognizing the immense interest, even Canadian media outlets such as TSN and Sportsnet have gambling-specific offerings on their websites.

Might we see a Sportsbook or two eventually pop up in Winnipeg, whether at Club Regent, McPhillips Street Station or perhaps the downtown rink itself? It's no longer a question of if, but likely when.

NHL referee Tim Peel.

ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES/TNS

NHL referee Tim Peel.

One of the oldest arguments against single-game betting has been that it creates opportunities for results to be compromised. To which I would point you to the current NHL product and the tired practice of "game management," as brought to light by a hot mic on referee Tim Peel earlier this season, and suggest that's already happening to a degree.

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport filed a brief in support of C-218, provided safeguards are put in place. "The detection of match fixing affecting Canadian sport cannot be achieved if gambling is taking place overseas on regulated or unregulated sites," their submission said.

In other words, don't expect a repeat of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal anytime soon.

Personally, I may dabble a bit, the way I have with Sports Select and playing the ponies at Assiniboia Downs a couple times every summer. My track record isn't very good, as proven by my NHL playoff picks. (six-for-12 on series predictions so far, with my projected Cup winner, Colorado, already on the golf course).

There's no doubt this won't be for everyone, just like other vices such as booze and tobacco aren't either. But to pretend it's not happening and allow huge amounts of revenue to flow out of the country on the black market, is foolish. Fact is, these dollars are used by provinces to fund vital public services including health, street repair and, somewhat ironically, addictions programs.

Nobody will be forced to make a wager against their will, but you can bet this is going to be a popular move for sports fans feeling lucky who will no longer have to look very far to get their fix. And if it also helps clean up the good ol' hockey game in the process, it's a win-win for everybody.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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