Encyclopedia - History of Canadian Gambling

Canada has had a long and complicated history with gambling since 1892, when a complete ban was imposed on all gambling activities. Today, things have changed for the better and there are ten provinces and three territories in Canada that have active gambling mandates, which include multiple activities, such as racetracks, lotteries, casinos, and other gaming organizations.  

The current laws are constantly being altered and changed, so it's always important to familiarize yourself with the local regulations of the province you are in that determines which products are legal and what the legal gambling age is.

Canadian Gambling and the First Settlers

Canada's rather more taxing legal heritage is a mixture of French and English customs and how they have evolved over the years. When French settlers first arrived, they brought with themselves a number of defining gambling experiences, such as baccarat, blackjack (or vingt-et-un in as the French nobility called it), and roulette.  As the French lost control of the land and the English moved in, gambling gradually became a less favoured activity, contrasting with religious and societal norms. By 1892, Canada had introduced a complete ban on the activity.

It took over 70 countries for Canada to change laws that criminalized gambling when in 1969, the country introduced an amendment to the Criminal Code, allowing provinces to run lotteries. Proceedings from the lotteries were then used to support various events, sporting activities, and plug financial deficits.  In the 1970s, Quebec created two separate regulators, one tasked with controlling the lotteries whereas the other focused on horse racing. Quebec was de facto the first province to legalize gambling, which inspired others to follow suit in 1971 with Manitoba joining in.

More provinces decided to roll out their own laws and thus Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia also became places where people could legally participate in lotteries. In 1974, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and British Columbia worked together to established the Western Canadian Lottery Foundation, the first regulator to involve multiple provinces at once and pave the way for shared liquidity.

Today, Canada enjoys gambling offers in all the ten provinces and three territories.

Types of Legalized Gambling in Canada

Currently, players in Canada can enjoy a number of gambling products available at commercial casino operations, racetracks, and even online casino websites. The available products vary from bingo, to video slots and slot machines, to video lottery terminals (VLTs), to lotteries.  The bulk of the offers are provided by land-based properties, across all provinces in the country. There are over 100 established properties that offer a substantial variety of gaming products.

Online gambling in Canada, on the other hand, is considered a legal grey area. While it's not technically illegal to visit offshore websites, the government has not granted any local operator to introduce online gambling officially.  There's one exception to this rule with the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation able to provide Canadian gamblers with online gambling options under the supervision of lawmakers. Even though there have been calls to revise the decision, no legal action has ensued.  

Apart from Kahnawake, Canadians can choose from a good variety of operators based outside the country which specifically target local gamers and use payment methods that are friendly to Canadian customers. This is why Canadian gamers can deposit

via ecoPayz, Instadebit and Interac with some of the mainstream offshore operators. It is worth noting that the government can block access to these websites at any one point. The good news is that many offshore operators are actually licensed by a respected international agency, which means that as a Canadian, it's very easy to play securely online. There are also a few other websites to consider that are available in specific provinces.

More Legal Gambling Websites in Canada

As attitude towards gambling gets laxer and operators continue to demonstrate social responsibility, Canada is already seeing some improvement insofar as online gambling goes. Apart from the offshore casinos and the Kahnawake website, three provinces are handling gambling operations online under government auspices:

  • British Columbia
  • Quebec
  • Ontario (a work in progress)

It is possible for provinces to join forces and create a common national casino that might help them shift the focus from offshore operators back to lawful website, but this will first necessitate for all ten provinces to adopt online gambling first.

The Legal Gambling Age in Canada

Since Canada's gambling industry is a patchwork of legislation, the legal age will vary slightly from one province to the next, but generally, the legal age is more accommodating than other places of the world, including the United States.  Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec set the legal age at 18 whereas everywhere else in Canada, you will need to be 19 to enter a casino. When it comes to online casinos, you will have to examine the terms and conditions of each individual website, but in most cases, the age is again 19.

How Safe Are Offshore Operators in Canada?

The majority of websites that cater to Canadian customers have been licensed by remote gambling authorities such as Curacao and the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA). There are often additional companies that verify the credibility of a particular casino, including eCORGA, iTech Labs.  Respected online casinos will always advise their customers to be responsible and to familiarize themselves with the dangers of gambling. You will often see the seals of respected NGOs, such as GambleAware and GamCare with the recommended websites.

The Future of Online Gambling in Canada

Regulation around the world is changing constantly. Some countries become less hospitable to such activities whereas others are only beginning to open up the way for casino operators. Canada's legal stance on casinos is unthreatening but in the lack of proper regulation this can quickly change.  

A piece of good news is that should the government go after online casinos, it would most likely target offshore iGaming websites whereas provincially-backed casinos will still be accessible, making one thing clear – the future of online gambling is safe.  However, more time will have to pass until Canada has had its final say on the state of online gambling in the country.