Statement made on 26 April 2012 by Senator George Baker
Hon. George Baker:
Honourable senators, I will not delay the proceedings today at all. I have been asked to say a few words concerning this bill.
I certainly support the previous bill introduced in the name of Senator Runciman as it relates to the prizefighting bill. I support Senator Campbell in his remarks and the way he put it to the chamber: to correct "antiquated rules" in our law. This particular bill now under discussion, which hopefully will go to committee following this proceeding, is similarly named.
Senator Mahovlich is famous in the world. Even today when you go anywhere internationally, people ask if you know Senator Mahovlich. The same is true for Senator Demers. I was recently in China with him, and we were at a restaurant with the Deputy Minister of Economic Development, as I recall. A lady approached me and asked if that was Mr. Demers — right out of the blue. That is how well known he is. Of course, Senator Larry Smith is a great football player — a running back that all Canadians respect for his athletic ability. They will be interested in this bill which is before the Senate.
Honourable senators, in my brief remarks, let me say that this will change the entire picture of sports in Canada forever. Honourable senators know that it is against the law to bet on a game everywhere in North America, except in the State of Nevada. One cannot bet on a hockey game or a football game unless one does it illegally in Canada and the United States. The one legal alternative is to go to Las Vegas in the State of Nevada. However, it is estimated that $10 billion to $30 billion a year is spent betting on players and outcomes of games in Canada. Therefore, the movers of this bill hope that, by legalizing it in Canada, money will come back to the organizations running those sports in Canada under the auspices and regulatory authority of the provincial governments.
To illustrate how huge this is, honourable senators, there is but one place you can go in North America to bet on a football game taking place in New York. Yes, people go to New York to see a football game, but where do they go to bet on it? They go to the west coast of the United States to Las Vegas, Nevada, and walk into a casino. Every casino in Las Vegas has a sign that says "Sports books." When one walks through that casino door, one sees 100 television screens, very plush chairs and free booze and food. People go there to bet on a sporting event, and not necessarily a professional event. This past month, $1 billion was the take for those organizations in Las Vegas, not only in the casinos but also in bars, clubs and so on.
Today, it is illegal in the United States and Canada to bet on individual sporting events, although $10 billion in Canada is spent illegally on the Internet betting on those various events.
Honourable senators, Bill C-290 is the creation of Mr. Joe Comartin, NDP Member of Parliament. It passed in the House of Commons, apparently with the unanimous consent of all parties. However, it is strange that certain members on this side of the chamber in the Senate have received letters from MPs who say they do not agree with the bill. Yet, they did not speak to the bill in the House of Commons and they did not vote against it. They are hoping, however, that the Senate will somehow reflect their feelings on the bill. I would suggest to the steering committee that we should call these members of Parliament as witnesses before the Senate committee, if they so desire. We do not want to embarrass them or get them into trouble with their leadership, but simply to give them the opportunity to appear before the committee.
Bill C-290 has only two clauses. It removes section 207(4)(b) of the Criminal Code, which says one cannot bet on a single sporting event. The penalty is an indictable offence, carrying a mandatory minimum sentence. The provision that we are dealing with today dates back to the turn of the previous century, to about 1892 when the Criminal Code of Canada came into play and Sir John Abbott was the Prime Minister.
Senator LeBreton will be interested to know that Mr. Abbott was a member of the Senate and the house leader in the Senate. He was not elected, but he was the Prime Minister. In fact, he was the first of a couple of prime ministers of Canada who were house leaders in the Senate. I think Senator LeBreton would make a great prime minister for Canada in the event that the Prime Minister wished to step down. As some honourable senators are aware, Sir John A. Macdonald, who was in office at the time, had passed away and Senator Abbott assumed that position for at least two years.
The Criminal Code of Canada came into being then and the first mandatory minimums were brought in by the previous government, which was a Liberal administration. As honourable senators are aware, these are the very sections that we propose to change today.
I read the short debate on this bill in the other place. Mr. Comartin, who was the mover of the bill, is a man of great knowledge with a great legal mind. However, he was unable to answer this question: Why does the bill propose removing only a part of this so-called antiquated section of the law? The other part of the law says that it is illegal to conduct three-card monte, punch board, dice games — which is craps — or a single sporting event. The question was asked of Mr. Comartin why he was not proposing to remove three-card monte. He did not know what it was.
From a place of sober second thought, honourable senators, allow me indirectly to inform him that in three-card monte a person comes up to the table and has to guess which card is the ace or other designated card as the person who is trying to take one's money quickly moves them around. Otherwise, the game can include a shell with a marble underneath.
The Criminal Code of Canada defines "three-card monte." Six sections between sections 201 and 207 of the Criminal Code deal with only three-card monte. Honourable senators, this interested me, being somewhat a student of case law. I recall a case from many years ago, R. v. Rosen.
In 1920 the superior court in Quebec was called the Quebec Court of King's Bench, and they had to adjudicate on whether three-card monte was a game of chance, a game of mixed chance and skill, or a game of skill.
In those years judges did not provide an English and French version of their decisions. Each judge declared their opinion in whichever language they so wished. There were five judges in that case, three French and two English, and they came to the unanimous decision that three-card monte, or bonneteau, which is the French name for the game, was in fact a game of skill, not a game of chance at all and not against the law at all. In France, under French law, it is considered to be a game of chance. However, they were dealing with the English criminal law and they determined that bonneteau was a matter of the quickness of the eye versus the rapidity of the hand and was therefore not a game of chance at all.
Yet, we see in the Criminal Code that three-card monte is a game of chance and that if you play it you will be subjected to punishment for an indictable offence with a minimum sentence of 14 days in jail for the first offence and 30 days in jail for the second offence. That is three-card monte. Why did the mover of this motion not just remove this antiquated section about three-card monte?
The game of craps, of throwing dice, is also an indictable offence in Canada, as is punch board. Some of you may not be aware of the game of punch board. I did not grow up in Canada; I was in Newfoundland. I am that old. I remember that practically every corner store had a punch board. You paid your money and took your chance at what was punched out. It was illegal in Canada at that time. It was an indictable offence and it remains an indictable offence today.
Much time was spent years ago determining whether the so-called game of the stock market, bonds and debentures, was in fact a game of chance and whether it should be illegal. I believe that for people who play the stock market for the long run it is a game of skill. If you are a day trader and you sold short on Apple stock three weeks ago, then you took your chances and you lost. However, people who look at the Fed, at the European crisis or at the IMF are playing for the long run, and to me that is a game of skill.
I raise that because we took care of that in the Criminal Code. In the concluding paragraph of section 206, which deals with games of chance, we made an exception for the trading of stocks, debentures, bonds and other securities.
For the ordinary poor guys who play craps, three-card monte or a shell game on the street corner, that is an indictable offence, while the stock market is excluded from that section of the Criminal Code.
The bottom line, honourable senators, is that a massive change is about to take place in betting in Canada. The provinces will decide, upon the passage of this bill, how this will operate. A person will be able to bet legally on a game that is taking place, on how many goals or touchdowns a player will get. The world will change in that area.
Also, people in the United States who wish to do distance betting will be able to take advantage of the system that will be in effect in Canada. They will not have to go all the way to Las Vegas to bet on a game.
I leave it to the committee to examine the bill with sober second thought. With those few words, I thank honourable senators very much.