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Major League Baseball calls foul on federal sports-betting bill

San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt, right, and Javier Lopez warm up before the World Series against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, in San Francisco.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Major League Baseball is making a late-stage attempt to stop a private member's bill on Parliament Hill that would legalize betting on single sporting events in Canada, warning this will increase the incentive to fix the outcome of games and create more gambling addicts.

Bill C-290, which enjoys support from MPs in all major parties, has flown relatively low on the public radar and has already passed the House of Commons and second reading in the Senate. Third reading, the final stage, would be the last chance to stop it.

The legislation would remove the Criminal Code prohibition against wagering on single sporting events, opening the door for provinces to introduce this type of gambling on races, fights or games.

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Existing sanctioned betting today limits Canadians to wagering on the outcome of multiple matches. Single-event sport betting is currently outlawed on the premise that it would create too much incentive to manipulate the results of matches.

Supporters of C-290, which was introduced by NDP MP Joe Comartin, say the change would create new jobs in the gambling industry and frustrate organized crime, which is reaping big profits from illegal betting on single sporting events.

The change would pave the way for wagers on the outcome of Toronto Blue Jays games, among others.

Two senior Major League Baseball executives appeared before a Senate committee Wednesday to caution parliamentarians they are making a big mistake.

"The legalization of single-event sports betting by any government would increase the chances that persons gambling on games will attempt to influence the outcome of those games," Paul Beeston, president of the Toronto Blue Jays, told the Senate.

"High rollers have high incentive to induce players to fix games or to shave runs or points."

Major League Baseball may not the be only professional sports association registering its disapproval.

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Conservative MP Michael Chong, a staunch critic of Bill C-290, said he's spoken to representatives of the National Hockey League and they've indicated to him that they also wish to appear before the Senate committee to express their opposition.

Single-event sport betting is prohibited across much of the United States but one of the exceptions is Nevada.

Supporters of C-290 say opponents' arguments ignore the fact that billions of dollars in illegal gambling already take place on single sporting events. This suggests, they argue, that the incentive to induce players to throw games already exists.

The Major League Baseball executives said however they're worried that Canada would contribute to a domino effect where more and more jurisdictions would follow suit – creating more pressure to fix games.

Mr. Beeston said baseball management also fears an erosion of confidence in the game

"Losing bettors and fans … may in turn become suspicious of every strikeout or error, and the game's integrity would be open to question play by play, day after day," he said.

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"If large numbers of our fans come to regard baseball only, or even partially, as a gambling vehicle, the very nature of the sport will be altered and harmed."

Mr. Chong said this legislation was unduly rushed through the Commons but he couldn't say whether this reflected a co-ordinated effort among MPs from several parties to expedite it. There's no record of how MPs voted on the bill because parliamentarians didn't opt to make a tally.

Mr. Beeston reminded senators of one of the darkest moments in his sport, last century, when members of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life from baseball for deliberately losing games during the 1919 World Series.

"The very intense feelings with which I approach the problem of betting on major-league baseball might best be understood if one remembers that the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball was created in direct response to the 1919 'Black Sox' scandal," Mr. Beeston told the committee.

The executives predicted the bill would spur more people to gamble on sporting events. Those who bet illegally via offshore Internet sites will likely prefer to continue this practice because the potential rewards will be higher, they say. But a new generation of legitimate gamblers would be born.

"Once the moral status of single-event sports betting has been redefined by legalization … many new gamblers will be created, some of whom inevitably will gamble more frequently and with higher stakes and more serious consequences."

Mr. Chong suggested professional sports leagues might think twice about locating new teams in Canada – or even staging championship games here.

Nevada, where single-event sport betting is legal, has no major-league professional sports teams, Mr. Chong noted.

"If you care about having a National Hockey League team brought to Markham or Hamilton, I'd be very concerned about this bill," Mr. Chong said.

"There's a reason why Las Vegas does not have a Major League Baseball team and a National Football League team. Both of those leagues have said they will never locate a franchise in Las Vegas … because Nevada allows for single-event sport betting."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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