Canada is a country with a large population of online gamers. By 2000, stats placed the number of Canadians engaging in some form of gambling at 70% of the population. Recent studies reveal that 75% to 85% of Canadians play the lottery or other games of chance.

According to a 2020 report, at least 19.3 million Canadians participate in gambling games, and the industry is now worth a whopping $2.66bn. Some provinces contribute to the numbers more than others, but there’s no denying that gambling is a favourite pastime among Canucks.

Through the years, there have been different efforts to manage gambling within the country. With the growing popularity of internet gaming, greater effort has been put in as these activities are much harder to control in the virtual space.

How is gambling regulated in Canada?

The government’s solution to regulating gambling is like what is applicable across the border in the US. Rather than a central authority, power has been delegated to the provinces to control gambling in their respective jurisdictions.

The Criminal Code stipulates that provinces can license third-party operators to conduct gaming activities. Provinces, however, are tasked with conducting and managing these gaming activities. It’s no wonder that several provincial governments have launched their own digital platforms for online provincial lotteries.

Some take it farther than the lottery. The Mohawk Territory’s Kahnawake Gaming Commission regulates many online casinos, online poker rooms, online sportsbooks, and several land-based poker rooms. Ontario is also notable in recent times, as it has ended the lottery’s online gambling monopoly and opened the market to private operators that meet their standards.

It’s worth noting, however, that the Canadian Gaming Commission oversees the industry for all of Canada. While laws pertaining to gambling activities are enforced by individual provinces, the commission serves as the figurehead, communicating the industry’s standing to the public, government, and media.

Regulated gambling in Ontario

Ontario is the largest Canadian province by population and, therefore, a huge market for gambling. Regulators seem to be aware of this fact and are taking advantage of it. Ontario offers regulated online gambling, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLGC) is responsible for the provincial lottery, slots facilities and commercial casinos.

On the online front, a legal framework introduced by the Ontario Government conveyed power to iGaming Ontario – a subsidiary of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) – to control and manage online gaming in the province.

iGaming Ontario lends its gaming license to private operators looking to offer internet gambling services to Ontarians. Operators wishing to enter the market legally must enter into a commercial agreement with iGaming Ontario. The requirements include:

  • Registering with the AGCO
  • Compliance with the provincial gaming regulations
  • An annual registration fee of $100,000 per gaming site plus other charges

A few years after the plans were revealed, the legal and regulated online gambling market finally launched on April 4th, 2022. Several big-name operators who had previously secured licenses went live on opening day. PointsBet, theScore, Rivalry, Rush Street Interactive, Bet365, FanDuel and 888 are some of the best Ontario-licensed operators available now.

Offshore gambling and the Criminal Code

Not all gambling is regulated, and the law does not make provision for gaming platforms operated outside Canadian borders. This means offshore gambling is in a legal gray area. It is neither expressly legal nor illegal, and there are no clauses on how to handle the activity.

Many Canadians still engage in offshore gambling. There are no repercussions for gambling at international casinos, except that you don’t get the player protection available with legal operators within the country.

Due to this favourable legal stance, many offshore sites target Canadian players and support Canadian dollar transactions. These sites often offer the latest and best games of 2022.

History of gambling regulations

The earliest record of gambling in Canada can be traced back to 1497 when John Abbot discovered native tribes that enjoyed playing cards in whatever form the games existed back then. The first horse racing event occurred in 1767, and by the late 1800s, the Canadian Criminal Code allowed gambling under a few conditions.

By 1910, an amendment to the law allowed pari-mutuel betting, and that was the first time it was legal for people to pool bets. Pari-mutuel horse racing thrived, and since the amendment also included charitable gaming, so did activities such as bingo and the lottery.

The next significant amendment was in 1970 when provinces were given the right to implement their own gambling laws, as is the case to this day.

Timeline of gambling law in Canada

1497 – Gambling was discovered among native tribes

1767 – The first horse racing event took place

1892 – The Criminal Code was established following the English common law

1910 – Pari-mutuel betting was allowed after an amendment to the Criminal Code

1970 – Another amendment delegated the enforcement of gambling laws to individual provinces

1985 – Sports betting became legal in Canada, except for single-game wagering

1989 – Canada’s first commercial land-based casino opened in Winnipeg

1993 – Another casino launched in Montréal

2021 – Single-game sports betting was legalized

There is a rich history, but also a turbulent one, surrounding legal gambling in Canada. It was scrutinized and even prohibited at times, but it has also been used to generate revenue for the government at other times.

Currently, online gambling is legal in Canada if you’re playing at offshore sites. For operators within the country, legality depends on the province where you reside.

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