In scenes reminiscent of Hollywood mob movies, tactical units of the Canadian police stormed a huge party in the town of Markham, Ontario on Sunday as part of a string of raids targeting illegal gambling and organized crime.
According to authorities the more than 2,300 guests at the venue were attending an illegal Super Bowl betting party. Seizing nearly CAD 2.5 million in cash and arresting six people during the raids. Police have also seized alleged prizes, such as Kawasaki jet skis, a Rolex Yacht-Master watch, LED TVs, thick wads of cash and other luxurious gifts.
The party was organized by an obscure online sportsbook called Platinum SB, but police claim that criminal groups, such as the Hells Angels were actually behind the event. Considering that some of the banners and posters on display at the venue sported Hells Angels insignia, this claim is likely to be true.
The gambling site has since been shut down by court order.
While the fight against organized crime enjoys wholehearted popular support, many Canadians wonder whether situations like this could be avoided through proper legislation. As apparent from the relatively small number of arrests on Sunday, most of the guests in attendance were not profiteering criminals, but betting and sports enthusiasts.
Clearly, they would have been happy to engage in wholly legal forms of betting on sports in Canada, not to mention finishing their dinners and watching the game as it happened.
Unfortunately, Canadian gambling laws do not currently allow wagering on selected, individual sporting events, such as the Super Bowl. As the example demonstrates, all the law does is to open the market for illegal activities, channeling some CAD 14 billion through the hands of criminals and unregulated, offshore sites every year.
This was the stance voiced by Bill Rutsey, CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association as he reflected on Sunday’s events. “What we now have learned is that this party was just one part of a sophisticated organized crime operation taking millions of dollars in sports wagers, the proceeds of which are used to fund other illegal operations of organized crime,” said Rutsey.
Current legislation covering the activity is outdated and must be stretched beyond its original intent to be applicable to online sports betting.
According to Rutsey “current sports betting laws date back to the 1960s when the world was a very different place. It should be a no-brainer to amend the legislation to allow Canadians to place a bet without having to combine it with additional outcomes or seek out nefarious means.”
A solution proposed by lawmakers is Bill C290, allowing single event sports wagering in the country. The bill was passed by the lower chamber with full political support across the political spectrum in March 2011. Eight of Canada’s ten provinces are also backing the proposal.
It has since been debated in the Senate and is about to be debated again this week. If it gets majority support, the bill would give provinces the authority to allow single event wagers, removing the need for punters to approach illegal bookies.
The CGA is certainly hopeful, since the alternatives aren’t very promising. Bill Rutsey believes that Canada is “now at the stage where we can talk about lost opportunities for communities across the country – such as economic development, employment, and most of all, protection of players”.