Recently Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting), passed the House of Commons and is now in the Senate. This bill would legalize single event sport betting in Canada. Currently, gamblers must bet on a minimum of three games simultaneously. I am opposed to this legislation and want to explain why.
Through the Criminal Code, the federal government determines what forms of gambling, if any, will be legal in Canada, and what forms of gambling will be illegal. The provinces manage those forms of gambling that the Criminal Code deems legal.
Since 1969, the Criminal Code has been amended several times to remove restrictions on various forms of gambling, resulting in huge increases in gambling. Statistics Canada indicates that gross revenues from government-run gambling operations increased five-fold from $2.73 billion in 1992 to $13.75 billion in 2007.
However, gambling revenues come at a high cost to society. Research shows that government-sponsored gambling has dangerous social consequences. A study by the Boston College Law Review found that children, lower income families and people with compulsive personalities are among those who suffer the most.
In 1998, the Quebec coroner’s office linked 27 of the province’s 1,271 suicides to problem gambling. By 2004, that number had increased to 32 out of 1,172 suicides. A similar trend exists in Ontario. A report by Ontario’s Chief Coroner revealed that gambling-related suicides more than tripled between 1998 and 2007. Since many provinces do not have a formal reporting system for gambling-related suicides, the above figures are likely much higher if all gambling-related suicides were reported. In fact, the Canada Safety Council estimates that over 200 gambling-related suicides take place in Canada every year.
Gambling is an inefficient way of raising revenues for government. For each dollar in revenue, governments must spend 50 cents to collect. In other words, governments across Canada spent $6.9 billion to collect $13.75 billion in gambling revenues in 2009, resulting in a $6.7 billion contribution to government coffers. Raising $6.7 billion in revenue through traditional means would be far more effective and efficient.
Gambling does not create good employment. Data from Statistics Canada indicates that workers in the gambling industry were more likely to be hired by the hour and at lower hourly rates than workers in non-gambling industries. Some argue that organized crime benefits from the prohibition of single sports betting. However, the same could be said of prostitution. Most do not argue for the legalization of prostitution, even though organized crime benefits from its prohibition under the Criminal Code. Various forms of gambling have been legal in Canada for decades. This will no doubt continue as governments have become reliant on gambling revenues. However, we should not add to the adverse social costs of gambling by expanding it through the legalization of single sports betting.
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