Sports betting in Canada and the US: How do they compare?

With the SBC Summit North America due to be held this coming July — which is the largest conference and trade show for the sports betting industry on the North American continent — there is understandably quite a bit of buzz about the future of the sports betting market in North America right now.

This event will have well over 3,000 participants assembling in New Jersey to discuss and trade ideas about the future of the sports betting sector in North America.

In many respects, this conference comes at a fortuitous time for the industry. With sports betting operators signing up record numbers of new users and seeing considerable revenue growth in the last year, there has never been a better time to reflect on what the future of the industry might look like.

When reflecting on this topic, one interesting question that remains to be asked relates to what regional differences, if any, remain between the different countries and territories in the North American market.

This is a particularly interesting topic for discussion given that  at previous points in time these differences were quite pronounced. However, as the restrictions relating to sports betting have eased in both regions, there are now arguably more similarities than differences.

With that said, let’s take a quick look at some of the differences and similarities between the sports betting sectors in Canada and the United States!

No national legislation

One of the biggest similarities in how sports betting is organized in Canada and America relates to how it is regulated at a national level. This is a consequence of how the US and Canada are organized politically. Canada is a federation of 10 provinces and three territories with a federal government overseeing certain matters, while the US is composed of 50 states which are also overseen by a federal government.

In both countries, the federal government has authority over certain functions and matters, while others are left to the provincial or state governments. In both the US and Canada, sports betting and gambling is one of these matters.

The result of this is that there are no national laws relating to gambling in either country. Instead, the issue is left to the individual states or provinces to legislate.

In the US, this was affirmed following the monumental 2018 Supreme Court decision that declared the decades-old federal prohibitions on sports betting unconstitutional.

In Canada, provincial authorities were given the power to conduct certain kinds of sports lotteries, which was an exception to the century-old ban on gambling activities. This was expanded even further in the 1980s and 1990s when Canadian sports betting was finally made possible via various amendments to the criminal code.

Over time, the situation in Canada improved, enabling provinces to finally take a more liberal approach to sports betting. The next main development came in August 2021, when an amendment to the criminal code finally permitted gambling entities setup by provincial authorities to allow single-event sports betting.

In this way, we can see that the sports betting industries have developed at a similar pace in both the US and Canada. Unlike other parts of the world, where sports betting has long-since been made legal, both the US and Canada have only recently legalized it.

How tax revenue is being used

Another similarity in how sports betting works in practice in Canada and the US relates to how provinces and states are putting this new form of revenue to use.

In many of the US states where authorities have started collecting tax revenues from sports betting activities, they have already made a commitment to putting this money towards the public benefit. In New York, for example, it has been directly reinvested into public education and grants for youth sports programming. It has also been used to develop responsible gambling programs.

Similarly in Canada, some provinces have earmarked this revenue for important public services, such as health care, education and other economic supports for marginalized communities. Although the various provinces will differ in terms of the exact causes they put these funds towards, most of them have public goals in mind.

In this regard, we can see similarities in how the US and Canada plan to treat this newfound revenue source.

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