Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson: Legalize sports betting in Canada to save horse racing.
On September 12, the first scheduled debates between candidates in
this year’s Canadian federal election will take place. They will
continue for the next six week, after which the public will take to
the polls to choose the nation’s Prime Minister for the next 4 years.
Will Justin Trudeau retain office? Will he be unseated by
Conservative Andrew Scheer? Could Jagmeet Singh come
from behind for the upset win?
Sports gambling wasn’t an issue in Canada for years. It is legal,
provided it was done via the nation’s regulated sports lotteries,
wherein certain parlay wagers are available. Canadians were content
with this, mostly because it was far better than the sports betting
prohibition thrust upon their neighbors to the south more than 25
years ago, and partly because they’ve had access to offshore sports
gambling since the dawn of internet sportsbooks.
That all changed in May 2018, when the US decided to lift its ban
on professional sports betting. Suddenly, Canadians felt they deserve
the same legal betting options – namely the ability to place a
straight-up bet on a single sporting event.
The issue has become prominent enough among both citizens, who
feel they should have that right, and politicians, who see a vast
revenue stream just waiting to be tapped. Lawson believes that this
year’s candidates will recognize those arguments, using the issue for
leverage in their upcoming debates.
“It’s clearly not a lead platform matter,” said Lawson, “but
at the same time, the market in Canada may be anywhere from $12 to
$15 billion.” He believes a revenue stream of that magnitude could
be a boon for cutting provincial deficits.
Corral the Revenue that’s Flowing Offshore
Lawson understands that some will always take the moral and
ethical stance against sports betting – all forms of gambling, for
that matter – but he believes the practice is “generally
acceptable”, and that it’s going on with or without the
government’s consent anyway.
“Much of the public is already (betting on sports) and they’re
doing it off-shore… It’s a $12 to $15 billion revenue source that
I think the federal politicians are going to step up and pay
attention to,” he said. Lawson feels the U. S. Supreme Court
decision will be a catalyst for federal politicians who are looking
to find new ways to generate revenue as the world becomes
exponentially more expensive.
“When you see that sort of potential revenue source, combined
with the fact that much of it is going off-shore, I think there’s
likely an obvious need to corral some of that revenue or the greater
portion of that revenue,” Lawson explained. “I think it’s going
to grow substantially once it’s done legally and marketed properly,
which cannot occur in this country today because it’s illegal.”
A Means to Save the Horse Racing Industry
Lawson’s opinion is a biased one – not because he wants to bet
on his favorite NHL team, but because he’s looking for a means to
save his beloved horse racing industry. As the CEO of Woodbine, he
knows better than anyone just how critical government funding is to
racetracks all over the country.
It’s no secret that equestrian businesses are flagging. Every
year, fewer people come out to the track – fewer bets are placed on
the races – fewer tracks remain open for business. Earlier this
year, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli promised to funnel
$10 million into horse racing programs in Ontario annually.
ensuring the industry doesn’t disappear altogether.
The fact is, horse tracks would no longer exist without
supplemental funding. It’s the reason so many tracks are suping up
their gambling offerings with casino games, and the reason Jim Lawson
is supporting a drive to legalize sports betting in Canada, despite
his certainty that sports gambling will “completely cannibalize
rural Canada and all of the racetracks…
“There’s a big cultural component in Canada of horsepeople and
the horse industry and it will be substantially hurt if horse racing
doesn’t have a role in sports betting,” he said. Lawson is
pushing for legal single-game bets because he believes it will easily
generate the necessary revenue to continue funding horse racing,
without raising taxes. And that’s something he believes most citizens
can agree with.
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