BY Reina Ephrahim & Liam Sharp
Watching a game on a Friday night can be more than just an opportunity for sports fans to cheer on their favourite teams. For Antoine Cammalleri, sports present opportunities for a game of chance.
“For a lot of people, it makes it more interesting if you have a little bit of skin in the game,” he says. “I think that’s what makes betting more exciting, and it adds another layer of drama to the whole thing. I think that’s why most people do it.”
Cammalleri is an avid sports bettor and enjoys betting on a number of variables when watching sports, particularly NFL and NBA games. These include which players might get injured, what the final score may be, individual athletic performances among players, and penalties to name just a few.
“We might do some research before football on Sundays to see who’s injured, which teams are on a hot streak, if they’re home or away, and we make our bets accordingly,” Cammalleri says. “Sometimes, if it’s a low-scoring game, we’ll bet that the total score of the game won’t be above 25 points or something like that.”
Single-event sports betting was officially legalized in April of 2021. It means Canadians can now legally bet on races, fights and single-event sports and contests, with the exception of horse races.
Since then, the Canadian sports betting industry has been booming.
According to Renaud Dugas, spokesperson and head of press relations for Loto-Québec, the corporation added single-event bets to their online services and for lottery retailers as soon as it was legal.
“This form of betting makes the gaming experience even easier and enables us to compete with the illegal operators who were already offering single-event betting,” he says.
Prior to the change in the Criminal Code, Canadians were spending about $10 billion dollars annually on illegal sports betting, with nearly $4 billion dollars going to unregulated offshore websites. Despite these numbers, Canadians were spending significantly less through legal provincial lotteries. For example, Loto-Québec generated nearly $60 million in revenue for the 2020-2021 fiscal year in event betting sales, but Canadians were only spending about $500 million on provincial lotteries.
Today, however, the Canadian sports-betting market is estimated at about $11 billion, and is set to double its value over the next five years.
Many gaming analysts expect to see an increase in sales in the coming years now that the activity has been legalized nationwide. Studies project that the legal single-event sports betting market in Canada will make anywhere between $1.5 billion and $2.4 billion in its first two years of operation.
“Adding single bets to our sports betting offer has had a positive impact on sport betting sales, and especially on live betting sales,” says Dugas. “For example, for the full NFL season, live betting sales in 2021 were five times higher than 2020.”
With betting now at our fingertips thanks to smartphones, the practice has never been more accessible, and bets can be placed at a moment’s notice—something Cammalleri can attest to. However, this increase in accessibility strings along concerning issues involving bettors’ mental health.
A study conducted by the University of Guelph in April 2021 listed numerous factors related to gambling behaviours, which include effects on thinking patterns, decision-making and changes of personality.
Despite its legalization, the ethics of sports betting remain murky.
“It does bring an ethical question that I always ask myself whenever I talk about sports betting on-air,” says Maxime Van Houtte, radio host for 91.9 Sports. “I personally don’t think it’s bad, but I do feel that it should be regulated just like any consumption product that can lead to an addiction, or that can have negative effects.”
On endorsements alone, the sports betting industry has begun slowly creeping in and capitalizing on major sports leagues, even partnering up for promotional deals. For instance, in August 2021, the NHL announced that teams could partner with an investor to advertise their 2022-2023 jersey patch partners. Later, in September, the Washington Capitals emerged as the first team to announce their partner: Caesars Sportsbook.
The direct involvement of sportsbooks and major gambling corporations in single-event games raises some valid concerns, with one ongoing issue being match manipulation in sports.
According to Paul Melia, CEO and president of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports, financial incentives related to single-event sports betting can result in the manipulation of athletic competitions.
“Reports have shown that growth in betting is resulting in unforeseen attempts at corrupting athletes to increase profits,” Melia says. “Fortunately, regulated markets provide better opportunities to monitor and address issues related to match manipulation compared to unregulated betting markets, which often operate with limited oversight.”
Melia thinks that Canada is headed in the right direction to protect athletes and sports from the risks of competition manipulation, and is optimistic that more measures will be implemented down the road.
Regardless of Canada’s approach to regulating sports betting, Van Houtte says that people must remain vigilant when participating in such activities.
“Remember that it’s just a game and that it should remain just that: a game,” says Van Houtte. “There is still a whole grey area around sports betting as it is getting more and more popular, and despite being legislated, it’s still very new. So people need to be aware of its potential harms.”