Legalized single-game sports betting is on the cusp of legalization in Canada and experts in the field are not mincing words about what the legislation could mean for the CFL.
“A lot of money, a lot of safety, a lot of security, a lot of support. Let’s face it, the legalization of sports betting in Canada is going to be the only new significant revenue stream for the CFL,” former gaming executive Nic Sulsky told TSN 1200 in Ottawa.
“I think the passing of this bill means guaranteed life for our beloved Canadian Football League.”
The CFL is facing unprecedented financial hardship in the aftermath of COVID-19. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie told the House of Commons standing finance committee in May 2020 that the CFL collectively loses anywhere from $10 to $20 million in a given season prior to the pandemic. A cancelled 2020 season resulted in losses totaling between $60 and $80 million, with more expected this coming season.
Last year, Saskatoon-Grasswood member of parliament Kevin Waugh introduced Bill C-218, the safe and regulated sports betting act, as a common-sense change to end an outdated restriction on single-event sports betting and aid that problem.
Ambrosie has called the legislation ‘a vital economic tool’ for the league and it is now nearing passage, adopted on second reading in the senate and referred to the Senate committee on banking, trade and commerce.
As the former president of Monkey Knife Fight, a fantasy sports gaming company recently purchased by Bally’s for $90 million, Sulsky knows just how much money is available in that sphere.
“Obviously the conversations with the XFL and the folks in the states about some sort of merger, that provides a little bit of potential hope as well, but the passing of this bill is going to mean upwards of a million dollars and potentially more for each franchise,” he explained.
“You’re talking about added revenues for all of these teams. Let’s face it, a lot of Canadian sports franchises really rely on tickets, on the gate and there’s been a significant downturn.”
Some inside the league have valued the change in legislation at as much as $20 million annually, with the potential to ensure financial viability for the league without any other changes to the business model. Currently, $14 billion dollars is bet illegally on sports in Canada.
“There’s no tax revenue, there’s no jobs, there’s no consumer protection,” Sulsky noted.
“That is a staggering amount of money and by legalizing and regulating a single event sports betting in Canada, there’s estimates out there that it’ll be close to a $25 billion a year industry.”
Once Bill C-218 passes the Senate, provinces will still have to establish regulatory protocols before the CFL can begin to profit. Ontario will be the first to do that, but preparations are being made nationwide for an explosion of partnerships and agreements.
“Quite frankly, even now the media companies, all the pro teams in Canada and the leagues are all in conversation with regulated sports gaming operators, because ultimately we’re all in agreement that this is a matter of when, not if,” Sulsky said.
That will be good news for the CFL by every possible estimation, but Sulsky is quick to remind senators that the clock is ticking.
“Not to bring it to the simplest point possible, but if we want to save one of the greatest identifiably Canadian institutions, the Canadian Football League, this is literally the easiest way to do it.”