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NBA withdraws opposition to Canadian sports betting bill

Adam Silver's New York Times op-ed was a calculated move to define the league's stance on gambling. Peter Yang

With round-robin group play over, the Women's World Cup in Canada has entered its single-elimination knockout format. However, fans taking in the soccer action pitchside aren't able to legally wager on the game they are watching. Single-game betting is banned in Canada, as only three-game minimum parlays (via Pro-Line, for example) are available. But a bill pending in the Canadian Senate -- labeled C-290 -- would serve to repeal Canada's ban on single-game wagering.

The legislation faces long odds. The bill appears to be on life support, with C-290 possibly expiring due to inaction at the end of June, despite passing three-plus years ago with unanimous consent of the elected members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

"It's getting increasingly difficult to say this is going to happen," said Paul Burns, vice president of the Canadian Gaming Association.

A late-breaking additional filing may give some hope to those in favor of the bill, though. In a June 8 statement to the Canadian Senate, the NBA withdrew its opposition to the bill, a 180-degree turn from its 2012 filing. In relevant part:

"Consistent with the NBA's current position regarding legalized sports betting in the United States, the NBA is no longer opposed to legalized sports betting in Canada so long as there is an appropriate legislative framework that protects the integrity of the game under strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards. These would include, at a minimum, mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol for betting operators; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gaming."

No other U.S. sports league made an additional filing. Major League Baseball had no comment when asked by ESPN Chalk if it also would be removing its opposition to the bill.

The International Olympic Committee, however, did re-emphasize its support of regulated sports betting last week with a second letter to the Canadian Senate. Three years ago, as C-290 began to garner attention, the IOC wrote in a filing:

"The IOC is pleased to give you some information on its initiative regarding the serious issue of sports manipulation through betting.

The sports movement is not against regulated betting, which is a major source of financing for sports worldwide. Furthermore, legal betting on sports allows fans to extend their support for athletes and teams, thus helping to build stronger attachments towards the sport."

At the time, all four of the U.S. major professional sports and the NCAA were opposed fully. Excerpts from 2012 filings by the NCAA, NFL, NHL, NBA, and the Toronto Blue Jays (on behalf of MLB) respectively are below:

"The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering. The explosive growth of sports wagering has caused a noticeable increase in the number and severity of sports-wagering cases investigated by the NCAA. These cases involve point shaving, student-athletes serving as bookies, and Internet gambling, including wagering on their own institutions."

"My name is Jeff Pash. I am Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the National Football League. On Behalf of the NFL, I appreciate the opportunity to present testimony in strong opposition to Bill C-290, which would amend Canada's Criminal Code as it relates to single sports wagering. The NFL offers this testimony jointly with the three NFL clubs neighboring the Canadian border -- the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, and the Seattle Seahawks."

"The National Hockey League strongly opposes the passage of Bill C-290. This bill jeopardizes the integrity of professional sports and the public's trust and confidence in professional sports in North America."

"Eliminating the prohibition on single-game sports betting threatens to injure not only the unique relationship that the NBA enjoys with its existing fans, but also the league's potential relationship with future fans, who may never form allegiances to a particular team because they are drawn instead to the competing interest of the betting line and the money that can be made from it."

"Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays strongly oppose the passage of Bill C-290, which bill would have the effect of removing the prohibition of single event sports betting that presently forms parts of the Criminal Code of Canada.

"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. Major League Baseball has remained unalterably opposed to legalizing sports betting, and protecting the integrity of the game is the primary job of the Commissioner's Office."

The U.S.-based sports leagues are opposed by an equally large group.

According to the Canadian Gaming Association, nine provincial governments, provincial gaming regulators and operators, municipal governments, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Labour Council and the Canadian Soccer Association all support the bill. And now the NBA is officially on board, too.

The NBA's surprise filing followed a Jan. 9, 2015 letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman from Brian Masse, a member of Parliament from Windsor West near the border with Detroit. The blistering four-page letter -- obtained by ESPN Chalk -- was direct:

"I note that while the C-290 was being considering by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs the NHL chose to submit a brief expressing its strong opposition to the bill. Your brief raises a number of points that I believe expose an absurd level of hypocrisy from the NHL. Most ridiculously it asserts that in its 'nearly 100 years of existence, the NHL has steadfastly opposed the spread of gambling and/or gambling related activities tied to the results of NHL games.'"

For now, though, C-290 is on its last leg. As of Thursday, there is no vote scheduled, with the Senate likely sitting the last time in the session next week.

"If there's a will, there's still time," Burns said. "It's just having the will, and I'm not sure the will is there. It just simply needs a vote. No one needs to debate it any further."

If C-290 fails, Burns says a more comprehensive bill that could include match-fixing deterrents and regulations for daily fantasy sports will be introduced next session.

"Sports betting is going to continue regardless," Burns added.

David Purdum contributed reporting to this story.