Wayne Gretzky joins U.S. sports betting giant amid uncertainty of Canadian legalization

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June 23, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Edmonton Oilers partner and former player Wayne Gretzky on stage during the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
June 23, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Edmonton Oilers partner and former player Wayne Gretzky on stage during the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Wayne Gretzky has inked a deal with BetMGM (MGM) to become a brand ambassador for the American sports gambling giant. The deal comes as legal sports betting in Canada faces an uncertain future as lawmakers in the Senate review Bill C-218 in the chamber's final sittings before the summer break.

Yahoo Sports U.S. has a partnership with BetMGM in U.S. jurisdictions where single sports-betting is legal.

While still illegal in Canada, single-sports gambling has exploded in popularity south of the border since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning the practice in 2018. The decision paved the way for companies like BetMGM, DraftKings (DKNG), and FanDuel to capture massive audiences looking to wager on individual sporting events. 

BetMGM said the Canadian NHL legend will join its "hockey and North American marketing efforts." The New Jersey-based company did not provide specific details on "The Great One's" compensation or day-to-day role.

"BetMGM is a terrific company and one at the forefront of the dynamic changes taking place in the sports business," Gretzky stated in a news release on Wednesday. "I'm excited to be a part of the company's continued expansion into new states and territories and to help tell BetMGM's story."

Canada is seen as prime territory by a number of U.S. sports gambling players. Boston-based DraftKings said in March that it expects the Canadian online sports betting and iGaming markets will generate as much as US$8 billion in combined revenue. Deloitte Canada predicts Canadians could place $28 billion in bets per year, five years after legalization

Bill C-218, legislation before the Senate that would amend Canada's criminal code to permit single-sports gambling, has passed a second reading and is now before the upper chamber's banking committee. Senators will hear from experts, and weigh the benefits of displacing black market operators and added tax revenue, against the risks of corruption in sports and gambling addiction.

The bill will be studied by the Senate on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET. A second committee meeting is scheduled for Friday at 11 p.m. ET. 

With the Senate set to wrap up its spring session this month, any delays at this stage, or at C-218's third reading, could push the bill's possible passage to the fall, when Parliament resumes. If the senators amend the legislation, it would have to be sent back to the House of Commons for reconsideration, reducing the likelihood of passage this spring. The process could also be derailed by the Trudeau Liberals calling an election.

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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