Canadian researchers are raising concerns about the lack of health data as well as the long-term effects related to single-game and in-play sports gambling across the country.
Statistics Canada last collected national data on the prevalence of gambling back in 2018, fuelling worries about what has changed since single-game sports betting was legalized in August 2021.
Matthew Young, the chief research officer for Greo Evidence Insights, said there has been an increase in online gambling since the passing of Bill C-128, the federal bill allowing gambling on single sport games.
"Things changed cataclysmically, right, and as well as the change in Ontario legislation allowing private operators into the space," he said. "Since (2018) though, we don't have any figures that we can look to … we do know that the number of people gambling has increased and if the amount gambled has increased."
Greo was formerly known as Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre before its government funding was cut.
Provinces across the country have seen various growths in sports gambling revenue.
In B.C., sports betting revenue increased from $23.9 million in 2020-21 to $31.6 million in 2022-23, the B.C. Lottery Corporation said in a statement.
Ontario's iGaming, which handles online gambling in the province, noted in its 2023/24 first quarter results that betting, including on sports, esports as well as proposition and novelty bets, accounted for $2 billion, or 14 per cent of total wagers and $138 million, one-quarter, of gaming revenue.
The Atlantic Lottery, a body made up of the Atlantic provinces' lottery corporations and commissions, announced a net revenue in the sports gambling category of $14.8 million in 2021-22, an increase of $3 million from the previous year.
Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis did not have up-to-date figures about its revenue from sports betting, but noted in its 2021-22 annual report that sign-ups for its online gambling portal rose 156.0 per cent year over year, which it attributed to online lottery and single sport event betting.
Luke Clark, the head of the University of British Columbia's Centre for Gambling Research which receives funding from the B.C. Lottery Corporation, said one-in-four B.C. residents participate in some form of gambling.
One issue, he and other researchers The Canadian Press spoke to, feel has gone unnoticed is the rise of in-play betting.
"The federal bill proposed a shift from or past a shift from parlay bets to single event betting. And on the surface you know, that sounds like a bit of a minor detail in a way," said Clark. "Rather than having to bet on three or four matches at the time, I can now bet on just one. But with that movement, in-play betting has arrived and that more changes the nature of the gambling product."
That change, he added, makes sports gambling faster than previously.
"Gamblers can layer up bets so they can have several bets on the go at once and can cash out bets early. And all of this turns sports betting into a much faster activity. It's a continuous activity and in terms of its psychological structure, it starts to look a lot more like the speed of slot machines, which are well known to be a harmful form of gambling."
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario announced a ban on the use of athletes in advertising and marketing of internet gaming in the province on Aug. 29, with the new restriction set to come into effect Feb. 28, 2024.
In its report published last week, the AGCO said its proposal "comes after significant criticism from advocates, experts and parents about the notable rise of online gambling advertisements, especially during live sports."
Andrew Kim, a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, whose research focuses on addiction and gambling, said although there have been no large-scale studies done on the harms of in-play sports betting, there are significant concerns.
"Essentially, it's become more of a harmful form of sports betting, so some of the preliminary work that we've published, we've shown that compared to the traditional parlay or even just single event setting, in-play betting was associated with greater harms," he said.
Kim uses a baseball game as an example, where the average Major League Baseball game features 280 total pitches. A gambler, he said, could now bet on the outcome of every pitch.
"Before, sports betting was kind of like a lottery ticket, right? You pick your three teams and you watched the game and see if you win," he said. "But in-play betting has made for speeding it up a bit more, similar to slot machine where you can make lots of lots of bets in a very short period of time."
The concern, he added, is the lack of research regarding the effect of single-game and in-game sports betting.
"No one has really assessed how big loss chasing is, is in the context of sports," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.
Nick Wells, The Canadian Press