With regard to gambling laws, Canada has taken a familiar path to get to its current prevailing regulations and legality. And like most similarly-minded European nations, such long-term evolution has resulted in an incredibly liberal policy on “bricks-and-mortar” casinos combined with somewhat perplexing mixed messages on online casino gambling. Gambling offences were first addressed by early Canadian parliaments in 1886 and 1888 are were codified into national law with enactment of the Canadian Criminal Code in 1892. In an era of prohibition-favoring thinking quite common in North America at that time, the Criminal Codes outlawed all games of chance as part of the section entitled “Offences against Religion, Morals and Public Convenience.”
But the liberalisation of Canadian gambling law began almost immediately, with progressive change seen gradually throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. In order to avoid bogging down into a lot of legislative details, we’ll present the history of Canadian gambling law in 10 steps.
In 1901, after legislation had been introduced to Parliament the previous year, bingo and raffle-type gaming was legalised for charitable purposes; betting on horse racing was legalized in 1910. A relatively odd provision was added in 1925: This made the hosting of games of chance legal anywhere in Canada, but only for temporary events such as seasonal fairs or traveling exhibitions.
Always among the very first forms of wagering to be addressed, betting at horse tracks in Canada was made legal in 1910, with the concomitant regulation and taxation laws set.
Called “incommensurate with the war effort,” from 1917 to ’20, no horserace wagering was allowed; when the tracks reopened, certain tweaks to pari-mutuel betting laws had also been enacted.
In 1922, dice games and “wheel of fortune”-type games were outlawed. This may explain in part the relatively-low popularity of craps at Canadian casinos to this day.
Changing Canadian gambling law via the Criminal Code was a provision made in 1925, which allowed games of chance as permissible only during temporary events such as regional fairs.
Believe it or not, the last public review of the gambling sections of the Criminal Code took place during parliamentary sessions of 1954-1955 when a House committee first considered the possibility of lotteries. Also at this time, the playing of three-card monte is outlawed. No, really.
1969 was a watershed year for gambling interests in Canada: Parliament declared that federal and provincial governments would be allowed to conduct lotteries and charitable gambling under provincial licence. Legal battles between and among governmental bodies regarding lotteries would continue for another 16 years, but the national government did manage to run profitable lotteries leading up to the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.
In 1985, legislative wrangling ended with provinces given exclusive authority to manage and conduct lotteries and lottery schemes. With some relatively remarkable foresight, the regulations extended to games conducted via a computer, video device, or slot machines.” This bit of the Criminal Code is still the last word on whether gambling at online casinos in Canada is legal, vague as it is. Thanks to opening these floodgates, a boom of casino-building carried right through to the mid-2000s.
Finally, in 1998 – 13 years after slot machines and video poker games were allowed – dice games (read: craps) were legalised.
Is a bit of 1985 legislation really the dominant law regarding online gambling law in Canada? Pretty much; from the rise of internet casinos in the 1990s through to the 2000s, most provincial governments did little about citizens playing at offshore-operated casinos and sportsbooks.
The British Columbia has since become a guinea pig of sorts for government-run and –regulated online gambling in Canada. B.C. started offering sports betting and lottery tickets online in 2004, poker in ’09 and casino gaming in ’10. Though each has gotten off to shaky starts, things have stabilised but are hardly turning huge profits for the B.C. government. (It’s really not a great website, trust us…)
Interesting action was taken by the Quebec government in 2014. After getting distinctly un-amazing results from the government-run online casino site, the government sold operations to the Amaya Gaming Group. Since Amaya have been making a name for themselves in the software production realm, this certainly creates some interesting business opportunities – and perhaps change to casino law in Quebec…
As far as casino operators are concerned, no Canada-based online casino – including through the Kahnawake Commission – may advertise to or accept players from Canada. And the Criminal Code even makes reference to the “Foreign Operators Principle,” which literally states that bringing charges against offshore operators is essentially impossible.
In any case, Canadian players are pretty much free to play at any non-Canada based online casino. The caveat here is that deposits made from any Canadian bank whose ownership is US-based or US-partnered will not go through due to *US* internet gambling law. Canadian players may feel free to play at any of the casino listed here on CasinoCanada as secure and legal places to play. Enjoy the games, Canada!