In Canada, as with many parts of the world, gambling in various forms has been a popular recreational activity and has been subject to ongoing changes in legislation and attitudes towards it. Due to changing laws, prevailing trends and technologies, gambling has taken different forms which in turn have reflected the history of the nation.
Gambling was not brought to the lands by European settlers in the 15th century, but already existed in First Nation communities in different forms. John Cabot discovered that the chance games he saw being played in the New World extended back to the 6th century BCE.
During the colonial period when Canada followed British laws, dice games were illegal, because in the interests of the efficiency of his army Richard III banned his soldiers (and everyone else) from playing games.
Following the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867 and Canada became a 'self-governing colony', the Criminal Code was introduced in 1892. Under this a complete ban on gambling of all forms was declared. These regulations were closely modelled on British laws of the time.
Despite the new laws, around the turn of the century betting on horse-racing both on and off the track was commonplace. As the exact laws were vague and it was difficult to control, the authorities usually turned a blind eye to this illegal gambling.
In response to what they saw as morally lax behaviour, in 1909 the Moral and Social Reform Council of Canada (MSRCC) formed and started to publicly attack gambling activities.
At the request of the MSRCC, the House of Commons formed a committee to review the subject of gambling and the public response. At this time race promoters lobbied for the legalisation of on-track betting and were successful. They argued that the move would lower the rate of criminal activity and improve the quality of horses bred for racing through the incentive of bigger prizes, which would in turn be of greater use to the country for military and commercial purposes.
In addition to this change to the laws, a type of betting known as 'Pari-mutuel' was allowed, which meant that as well as the loser's stakes going to the winners, a certain proportion of the winnings were held for the horsemen, the track and the state.
In 1925 an amendment was made for gambling when it was done at annual agricultural fairs and exhibitions.
In 1969 a further amendment to the Criminal Code was made to allow provincial governments to conduct their own lotteries, and authorise charitable organisations to do the same. Provincial governments did not have complete autonomy though and were all still under the control of the federal government, which also had its own lottery. This amendment allowed for the provinces to raise funds for their own projects and events, such as the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Another amendment was made in 1985 that saw control over gambling given to provincial governments and territories, and gave them permission to administer the use of computer-based and video gaming devices, such as VLTs and slot machines.
As previously mentioned, the first gambling in Canada was among the First Nations, who used gaming sticks, such as for stick gambling involving the passing of tokens and guessing by pointing with wooden sticks. This contrasted with early settlers in the British colonies whose most popular form of gambling was by using playing cards for games such as Cribbage or Rummy.
During the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s, tens of thousands of prospectors went to the Yukon Province along with a card game known as 'Faro' that was played in certain American cities at the time. The game is believed to have its origins in the medieval German game Landsquenet.
The long tradition of agriculture fairs originated in Massachusetts for showcasing agricultural products. At such events, various forms of entertainment became an important factor, thus providing an opportunity for gambling when this was made legal in 1925. This became more and more popular until week-long agricultural fairs appeared in large cities offering casino-style gambling.
Illegal gaming houses are widespread throughout Canada, and are a large source of revenue for organised crime. In such private establishments, betting on sports events is a common activity, and generally the proprietors are not know for being trustworthy.
Crystal Casino, the country's first permanent casino opened in Winnipeg in 1989. The industry quickly burgeoned and by 2001 there were 59 permanent casinos in total with 38,652 video lottery terminals and 31,537 slot machines.
The amendments to the Criminal Code in the last half of the 20th century impacted the industry such that the net revenues from government lotteries, VLTs, and casinos rocketed from $3.2 billion in 1993 to $11.8 billion in 2003.
With the advent of the internet, online gambling has become a popular form of gambling in recent decades, on thousands of websites. This is not strictly legal in Canada unless operated by a provincial government. However, to date there have been no cases of prosecution for internet gambling, partly due to the difficulty of locating individuals that are operating online.
Provincial governments also offer websites for online gaming through betting on sports, poker, casino games or buying lottery tickets.
With the ever-increasing pervasiveness of the internet, it would seem that online gambling will be the future of gambling, though the bigger picture still remains to be seen.