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Lawson Discusses Sports Betting Bill

Published: March 27, 2021 6:33 pm ET

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After speaking in favour of fixed odds wagering at the end of 2019 and since, Woodbine Entertainment and its CEO Jim Lawson recently applauded an amendment to Private Member’s Bill C-218 that would restrict fixed odds wagering on horse racing in Canada. Lawson recently clarified the seemingly opposing viewpoints.

On Thursday (March 25) a release from Woodbine Entertainment stated that the nation's horse racing industry would be protected with the amendment to the existing private member's bill regarding fixed odds wagering.

"There's no question in my mind that fixed odds wagering is good for the horse racing industry," Lawson told Trot Insider in an interview on Thursday evening. "Generally speaking, fixed odds wagering is popular and it's good for the industry. It's going to grow the sport and bring in young people that probably don't like pari-mutuel wagering. And our big bettors like fixed odds too; they bet at 3-1 and it stays at 3-1.

"The problem is that we're dealing with a private member's bill here that legislatively is very difficult to change. We were fortunate to even get the private member's bil amended, because what it does is it deals with another section of the Criminal Code on pari-mutuel wagering that really wasn't the subject of the private member's bill. They've done a bit of a stretch to address it."

Lawson was part of a significant cross-party advocacy effort that spoke to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and ensured the horse racing industry wasn't hampered by the unintended consequences of allowing fixed odds wagering within this framework at this time.

"Their solution -- which I don't disagree with in the short term here -- is just to not allow fixed odds wagering at all on horse racing in Canada. What they've done is pulled horse racing out of the sports betting legislation so no one can do fixed odds wagering, including the racetracks. Now, in an ideal world, what we would have liked -- and it may come to this at some point -- is to say no fixed odds wagering for the sports betting, but those who can conduct pari-mutuel wagering can also offer fixed odds wagering. That was, like, a hill too high to climb in this private member's bill, so their approach was, as we amend the definition of lottery scheme under the Criminal Code to allow single-game sports betting, we're just going to carve out and exclude the ability to wager on horse racing. So if you can't wager on horse racing, the only people that can wager on horse racing is pari-mutuel wagering.

"You're right, we like fixed odds wagering and think it's the future of the industry. I think we'll get there at some point but right now we can't do it, but no one can do it, and that protects the industry."

That's not the only hill Lawson and horse racing have to climb. He's still championing the cause for the legalization of historical horse racing but feels that's a longer-term objective.

"I don’t think is going to happen in this go-round for the reason I just told you. It’s just too complicated to say 'by the way, you’re amending sports betting, throw in historical horse racing and by the way can you also let the pari-mutuel bettors do fixed odds wagering?'"

For racing, should single-game sports betting become legalized and other operators decide to offer horse racing it will still support the industry as the product would have to be obtained through Woodbine.

"This is good news for us; we're the only ones that can offer horse racing and what’s going to happen is as these sports betting operators are going to come in to Canada if this gets legalized, if they want to offer horse racing as part of the product they’re going to have to get it through us which is good news."

The Bill will now proceed to Third Reading in the House and, if passed, head to the Senate for review.

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