When the Canadian province of Ontario opened casinos during the early 1990s, it was a boon for both the province’s economy and Ontario’s travel industry.
At the time, outside of Nevada and New Jersey, the only casino gambling that was legal in the United States was on tribal casinos, few of which were nearby major American cities.
Border cities like Windsor and Niagara Falls especially found that their casinos were magnets for American tourists. Day trippers from Buffalo flocked to Niagara Falls, while Detroiters made regular sojourns to wager in Windsor. Bus tours from Ohio drove I-75 to the border and also kept Windsor’s casino industry hopping.
It was also a wonderful development for the Ontario tourism industry. People were coming to the province year round in order to play at the casinos. Vacations were planned around this activity and hotel rooms were being filled by travelers excited by the chance to hit the slot machines and try out their luck.
Canadian cities with casinos were being treated like the Las Vegas of the north. They were tourist destinations.
Things slowly began to change, and not for the better as far as Ontario casinos were concerned. In 1999, three commercially-owned casinos opened in downtown Detroit and suddenly, Americans weren’t as keen on traveling to Windsor. Due to the tragic events of 9/11, crossing the U.S.-Canada border became an ordeal. Eventually, passports were required to make this trip and it was truly shocking how many Americans didn’t own a passport.
Sports Betting Legalized
The Ontario gambling industry took another hit in 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. This 1992 law prevented state-authorized sports gambling with rare exceptions. The law made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single sporting event.
Suddenly, there was yet another reason to not only keep Americans in their own country to do their gambling but also to attract Canadians to begin crossing the border to bet on sports in the USA.
The roles were now reversed. Instead of tourists filling Ontario hotels around an attempt to see if they couldn’t make their fortune at the gaming tables, Canadians were planning trips to the USA in order to wager on major events such as the Super Bowl or NCAA March Madness.
This newest change to the landscape is a development that sticks in the craw of Canadian Member of Parliament Brian Masse. The MP for Windsor West, the NDP MP has championed the cause of legalized single-sports betting in Canada for much of the past decade.
Even if this change weren’t able to bring Americans back to stay in Canadian hotels, it certainly would keep Canadian travelers from leaving the country. they ‘d be more likely to stay in an Ontario city and at an Ontario hotel if they could access the same entertainment options that are at their disposal in the USA.
In 2011, Windsor NDP MP Joe Comartin introduced a bill designed to legalize single-sports wagering in the Ontario sports betting industry. Masse picked up the ball after Comartin retired. The bill died when Parliament was dissolved before the 2015 election.
Masse reintroduced the bill in 2016. The bill passed through the House of Commons but before it could become law it stalled in the Senate.
A new bill was introduced this year by Kevin Waugh, a Conservative MP from Saskatchewan, with the full support of Masse. The bill was waiting for second reading when it was stalled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision in August to prorogue Parliament.
“We were promised in this past election that sports betting . . . would be an easy one to get done and here we are a year later, more problems, more delays,” Masse told the CBC.
Ontario Government On Board
Seeing the value in single-sports betting as a tourist attraction and recognizing the business the Federal government is costing both national and provincial economies by dragging their feet on this issue. the Ontario Government of Conservative Premier Doug Ford has thrown its support behind the legalization of single-sports betting.
“The Government of Ontario has asked the federal government to do away with the outdated prohibition on single event sports wagering,” Emily Hogeveen, the senior communications advisor and press secretary for Ontario Minister of Finance Rod Phillips, told the Windsor Star.
“If single-event sports wagering is made legal, our government will work with the federal government and key players in the sports betting market, to ensure changes are implemented in a responsible way.”
Currently, the only form of sports betting legal in Ontario is Pro-Line. Operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission (OLG), it requires parlays of at least two games to be played.
The commissioners of the five professional sports’ leagues operating in Canada — NHL, MLB, NBA, MLS, CFL – sent a letter to Trudeau offering their support of single-sports betting.
“We are in a lose-lose position right now,” Masse told CBC News. “We would have been ahead of the curve if we had actually defined our own destiny, but instead U.S. courts, as expected, moved ahead and left us behind.
“The consequences for Canada are very high.”
According to Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, in 2019, the tourism, culture, and heritage sector generated $43.7 billion in economic activity, with 147 million visits by tourists (domestic and international) who spent $29.4 billion in Ontario to support 335,000 jobs.
The downturn caused by COVID-19 is expected to cost the Ontaro tourism industry $11.4 billion in 2020.
With the Canada-USA border still closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the introduction of single-sports betting through Ontario casinos could convince Canadians to travel and stay in Ontario, and help offset the massive tourism downturn in the province.