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The National Hockey League is changing its tune on legalizing sports wagering in Canada, endorsing a new bill aimed at permitting single-game betting.
League officials testified in a parliamentary committee on Tuesday aimed at gathering industry feedback on legislation to amend the criminal code and permit single-game sports betting in Canada. Currently, bettors in Canada can currently only place tandem wagers on multiple games, a concept known as parlay betting.
"Though the NHL had previously opposed single events sports wagering, for the reasons we have publicly stated on the record, the practical reality is that the landscape in North America has changed," said Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s chief business officer and senior executive vice-president of global partnerships.
"Our experience in the United States … has demonstrated that a well-regulated marketplace that both advances and protects the interests of relevant constituencies can be established in a safe and responsible manner."
Canadian parliamentarians have been attempting to update the nation’s sports betting laws for over a decade. The NHL opposed a similar law that was introduced in 2011, issuing a written response that its concerns focused on protecting the integrity of the game from match-fixing.
A recent report from Deloitte found Canadians placed roughly $15 billion in sports wagers in 2020, but only three per cent was through legal services. Deloitte estimates that the annual Canadian sports betting market could climb to $30 billion in five years should laws be modernized.
When asked by politicians to comment on their policy reversal, Wachtel said the league has been working closely with various stakeholders on how to take part in a regulated betting market.
"There's been extensive technological innovation, increased partner sophistication, and - perhaps more importantly - a true understanding of how a regulated legal sports market can better promote responsibility and integrity versus a non-regulated market," he said.
The league already has a third-party statistics agreement with Swiss-based Sportradar AG, which collects and analyzes sports data for the betting industry, and can identify potential match-fixing to protect the game's integrity. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board teamed with PCV in 2018 to take a 37-per-cent stake in Sportradar, which also has partnerships with the National Basketball Association, National Football League, and Major League Baseball.
The NHL is not in discussions with any Canadian-based companies on licensing its data for betting purposes, he added.
Wachtel also said that specific in-game wagers that aren't necessarily focused on the games’ outcomes – a practice known as “prop bets” - is something the league is interested in. He said it would help improve how fans engage with the sport, even if it's not necessarily a very profitable venture.
"We think that all of this will provide an opportunity to generate new fans to the game," he said. "Whether it's gambling, but also social gaming or fantasy gaming, the likelihood for people to engage and participate in that sport is much greater."