PHOTO: If you're in Ontario. (Julio Cortez/The Associated Press)
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Sports betting comes to Ontario
Think this is the year the Toronto Maple Leafs finally end their Stanley Cup drought? Have an inkling that North Carolina will upset Kansas in tonight’s men’s March Madness final? Got your eye on Canada’s Corey Conners to win The Masters?
If you live in Ontario, then congratulations — starting today, you can legally put your money where your mouth is.
As Ontario becomes the first province to expand its sports betting market, here’s what you should know:
Wait, wasn’t sports betting already legal?
Prior to the passing of Bill C-218 last June, the only legal type of sports betting in Canada was through parlays (bets where you pick multiple results which all must hit in order to win) and horse racing.
Bill C-218 changed that, removing the federal ban on sports betting and paving the path for more types of gambling to be allowed, like futures (e.g. a Stanley Cup bet placed at the beginning of the season) and single-game betting (e.g. the Leafs to beat the Lightning tonight).
Ontario is the first province to launch its regulated sports betting program, with multiple sportsbooks officially opening for business today. With a population of around 14.57 million people, Ontario is expected to generate $800 million in gross revenue from sports betting this year — hardly a gamble for the provincial government.
The U.S. passed a similar bill in 2018, and 30 states now host legal sports betting.
This doesn’t seem like it changes much for me.
Then you were probably already betting in what’s known as the grey market, with an online sportsbook based offshore. You may also be placing bets in person with a bookie, in which case your gambling may not be affected at all.
In the first case, the transition seems like it will be pretty simple. If your current sportsbook has an agreement with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, it’s likely asking for some verification of your age (you must be 19 to bet) before you can continue. For your troubles, it may offer some sort of promotion through bet credits — but don’t mistake credits for real dollars. There are often many strings attached before credits can turn into withdrawable money.
How will this affect my sports viewing experience?
Besides the endless sportsbook ads after seemingly every whistle, betting should make your sleepy late-season NHL game a little more exciting — and hey, maybe you’ll even win some money while you’re at it. (Here’s where we note that the book always knows best, and you will probably lose. Fair warning).
One way to gamble in-game is through prop bets, which you may be familiar with from the Super Bowl. Props can be anything from the length of the national anthem (typically only offered for the NFL championship) to specific player stats (Auston Matthews to score in any given game seems like the safest bet there is these days). Some people’s vision for the future of sports betting is to have fans in the arena placing these types of wagers, and pro leagues are slowly warming to that idea with every additional dollar of revenue.
What are the downsides?
Gambling addiction is one. The government is providing online supports to curb that problem, including an online self-assessment quiz. Meanwhile, self controls where you can set deposit limits and a maximum loss must be included on all sportsbooks.
The other downside involves the athletes themselves. The NFL recently suspended Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley an entire season for betting on his team’s games, even though he reportedly bet on Atlanta to win as part of multiple parlays. But the whole thing falls apart if the players are rigging games — part of the reason some think single-game betting was banned in the first place, and the entire reason why names like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose are held in infamy.
So how can I get started?
Some basics: if you see -110 next to a wager, that means you need to bet $110 to win $100. Conversely, something like +220 means that a $100 bet would pay off at $220.
A moneyline bet is when you choose a game winner, with odds skewed toward the favourite. Betting with the point spread evens those odds. For example, Kansas is favoured by 4.5 points in tonight’s title game against UNC. If you bet on the Jayhawks with the spread, they need to win by at least five points. Meanwhile, a UNC bet would be successful if the Tar Heels either lose by fewer than five points, or win.