Canadian plan to allow betting on US sports opposed in both nations
A move by the Canadian government to raise money for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary has become a political football - or, more correctly, baseball. The decision by the federal government to run a ''sports pool'' has prompted two lawsuits - one from Americans who say it will besmirch the good name of baseball, and one from Canadians who call it an illegal ''lottery.''
Carol Leslie, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Fitness and Amateur Sport, says that the federal government has pledged $200 million to the Calgary games. To raise this money without raising taxes, the government has decided to run a lottery-type game in which contestants try to win money by predicting the winner of professional sporting events, particularly baseball games.
But the commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, opposes the move. He says ''we vigorously oppose any form of legalized gambling on our game. It is neither proper nor fair for the Canadian government to appropriate the good name, integrity, or popularity of our game to generate revenue from an enterprise which baseball strongly opposes.''
Chuck Adams, a spokesman for the commissioner, says that the opposition to gambling is ''not unusual from our position.'' He says the commissioner has spoken out in the past against similar proposals by the state of New York and New York City to run baseball lotteries.
Mr. Adams says his office filed suit in the Canadian courts last week, seeking an injunction to ''prevent them from selling pool cards on baseball games.'' He says the suit contends that the pool infringes the copyrighted schedules, trademarks, and ''good will'' of the sport.
The Canadian sports minister, Jacques Olivier, and the commissioner met last week, but were unable to reach an agreement. Mr. Olivier has affirmed his intention to go ahead with the pool, and said if he should lose the case in court, ''we'll change the law.''
But the minister is also taking flak at home. The Interprovincial Lottery Corporation has filed suit against the ministry. Christopher French, secretary-treasurer of the organization, says that the federal government signed an agreement in 1979 giving all lottery rights to the provinces. The suit alleges that the the sports pool is a lottery, and is therefore in violation of that agreement.
Ms. Leslie, of the minister's office, claims that the sports pool is ''not a lottery, because predicting who will win or lose includes an element of skill.''
Mr. French disagrees. He says it has already been established by the Canadian courts that a sports pool is a game of ''skill and chance,'' which is the legal definition of a lottery. And, he adds, ''a sports pool is regarded as a lottery by every other jurisdiction in the world except the Canadian federal government.''
French says the government is using the pool as a ruse to get back into the lucrative lottery market. Lotteries raise $1.5 billion annually in Canada. The Province of Ontario alone made a profit of $163 million last year. Yet the federal government receives a total of only $35 million of that.
Sports pools are much less popular than general lotteries, French says. Similar pools in various Canadian provinces and in Europe have been money losers.
French contends the government knows it won't make any money at the sports pool. ''After four or five months of losing money, the government will say that it has to get back into the lottery business,'' he says.
Yet Ms. Leslie says that marketing research has indicated that there is ''lots of interest'' in the proposed game. She says the government projects the pool will raise $80 million the first year. Fifty million dollars will go toward the Calgary games for each of the next four years. And the remainder of the money will go to other fitness programs, arts and culture, and health programs, she says.