Woodbine boss says time is right to legalise single-event bets in Canada

Woodbine boss Jim Lawson says single-event betting needs to be legalised in Canada

THE boss of Woodbine Entertainment Group Jim Lawson says the time is right to legalise single-event sports betting in Canada, and believes it could provide a windfall for horse racing.

Lawson, who has been CEO at Woodbine for close to five years, said the threat of customers going over the border to the US and taking advantage of single-event wagers was a huge to not only the current gambling industry, but also any future sports betting industry.

Canada is also regarded as a “grey market” in online gambling terms, meaning it largely does not address digital wagering in its laws, allowing 1000s of offshore online casinos and sportsbooks to target its citizens.

Lawson said “there’ve been many studies that show” horse racing provides about 30,000 to 40,000 jobs in the Ontario area alone, a figure that was well worth protecting and a number that could grow with single-event sports betting.

“There’s a whole lot we can do as a non-profit mandate that other companies won’t and can’t do because they have shareholders and many are public companies,” he said.

Putting further pressure on Canadian lawmakers to act on sports betting is the continued rollout of a legal industry in the US. The US Supreme Court officially lifted the ban on sports betting on May 14, 2018, with states including New Jersey and West Virginia already taking bets.

Lawson said single-event sports wagers must be legalised in Canada to help the industry and “keep the money in Canada to support the economies”, and he said Woodbine were prime candidates to be early adopters if or when the laws change.

“As the only company that has this capacity and is authorised to do legal, single-event sports wagering in Canada, we have grown our technology, our infrastructure, our management team, our relationship with the regulators,” he said.

Horse racing in Canada has been in a perilous state since 2012, when the Slots at Racetracks programs was closed. This program had provided a huge windfall for the racing industry and its closure led to some tracks and smaller operations being closed. Woodbine was not exempt to these pressures, laying off more than 100 people at its Woodbine and Mohawk operations.

Meanwhile, racetracks across the USA have had new life breathed into them following the introduction of single-event wagers. Conservative estimates have put the illegal online wagering business at 15 billion USD in Canada, but Meadowlands Racetrack chairman Jeff Gural said this figure might actually be much higher.

“I can tell you our business online at the Meadowlands is US$2.5 billion,” he said. “So  I think clearly $10 billion in Canada is probably a low number.”

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