A Conservative Senator who owns two Canadian Football League franchises intervened this week in favour of proposed new sports-gambling legislation, putting him at odds with the warnings from other pro-sports leagues, including the NHL, NBA and the NFL.
David Braley, owner, president and chairman of the board for both the Toronto Argonauts and the B.C. Lions, raised eyebrows when he appeared at a Senate committee that was studying a bill that would legalize gambling on a single sports event.
Mr. Braley is not a member of the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee but he sat in on Thursday's meeting, making it clear he supports the bill and rejects warnings that it will open the door to abuse.
"How can one little guy fix a game?" he asked, responding to criticism that the bill would encourage the rigging of scores.
Mr. Braley sided with the bill's supporters, who argue allowing single-game betting would capture revenue that currently goes to offshore gambling sites and organized crime.
"I really believe that money should stay in our provincial coffers, whether it is three games or two games or one game," he said.
"That is just my personal opinion."
If passed, some argue the bill could benefit the CFL – and Mr. Braley's Argonauts in particular – because the National Football League is strongly opposed to allowing single-game betting.
If the Senate approves the proposed legislation, it could deter NFL expansion in Toronto, which is seen as a potential threat to the Argos and the CFL.
Debate over the bill, C-290, is heating up in the Senate.
As The Globe first reported this week, some Conservative and Liberal Senators are saying the bill could be defeated, even though it was passed unanimously by all parties in the House of Commons.
In an interview Friday, Mr. Braley said he realized he could be in a perceived conflict of interest on this issue and decided early on not to speak on the bill in the Senate Chamber – nor will he vote on the bill – but he felt it was okay to ask questions in committee.
He also said the CFL and NFL can work together.
"We're not enemies," he said.
The Conservative government officially supports the bill, but its sponsor in the Senate, Conservative Senator Bob Runciman, describes himself as "unenthusiastic" about the legislation, and is unsure whether it will pass.
Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate, cautioned Friday in a statement that the outcome is "far from decided."
The bill, first proposed by NDP MP Joe Comartin, sailed through the House of Commons with little debate and not a single recorded vote.
When the bill reached the Senate, officials from the NFL, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and the National Collegiate Athletic Association expressed strong objections to the legislation.
Jamie Dykstra, a spokesperson for the CFL, said the league has not taken a formal position on the legislation and had no comment on Senator Braley's remarks.
Alan Middleton, a marketing professor with York University's Schulich School of Business, said there's no doubt allowing single-game betting would benefit the CFL financially by raising the excitement and interest surrounding the games and by deterring the NFL from moving north.
"Is it likely that the other leagues will take some kind of defensive action because of this? Yes," he said, suggesting a "miffed" NFL would be less likely to have the league's Buffalo Bills play games in Toronto.
During his intervention Thursday, Senator Braley said he surveyed his own employees – he later clarified he was referring to auto workers – about their gambling habits.
"Fifty-six per cent of my employees – because I went through and asked my employees – bet online offshore," he said in committee.
"You would have to go around and take the police and put them all in jail.
"Are you going to put 56 per cent of the population in jail? They are usually under 35 or 40 years of age."
Mr. Braley is the president of Orlick Industries Ltd., an auto-parts manufacturer.