Gambling in Canada has been legal since 1985, long before online casinos existed and even pre-dating the internet. Since then, however, it has become a favored pastime of many Canucks.
With almost 90 brick-and-mortar casinos nationwide, gambling opportunities aren’t exactly scarce. Moreover, more than 19.3 million Canadians gamble online. These players contribute to the industry’s revenue—worth more than $1.2 billion annually—and are why many gambling brands are eager to offer their services to them.
However, operating these gambling sites is not simple, as many provincial and national laws must be followed. Read on as we examine the law about online casinos in the “Great White North.”
Laws Governing Gambling in Canada
Gambling laws in Canada have undergone multiple revisions over the years. The first noteworthy law to oversee the pastime was passed in 1892. The Canadian Criminal Code outlined particulars relating to gambling, noting certain conditions under which it was tolerated.
By 1910, these laws were amended to make provisions for pari-mutuel betting on horse races and to cover gambling used as a fundraising tool for charities and religious organizations. By this time, gambling was becoming more prevalent in the country despite the law offering no clearly defined direction and no physical casinos existing.
In 1970, when gambling had reached new heights of popularity, the Canadian Criminal Code was again amended. Essentially, it left it up to each province to decide whether to allow gambling. Within a year of the changes, provinces began enacting their legislation. Around this time, the first casino-like gambling location, Diamond Tooth Gerties, opened in Yukon. Several other casinos across the country followed suit.
Today, gambling activities are still overseen by the Canadian Criminal Code. Few changes have been made to it, even since online casinos arrived on the scene. However, online casinos are available in most countries because each province can determine its rules. The only notable recent change, in August 2021, was a provision to allow single-event sports betting.
The governing body that oversees the gambling industry is the Canadian Gambling Commission, though it does not enforce specific legislation upon any gambling entity or party who chooses to gamble.
Instead, it is solely responsible for gathering information about what gambling activities happen in the country and handling serious issues within the industry. It is also responsible for the overall perception of the pastime and ensuring the industry is fairly represented in a way that can be understood by anyone engaging in gambling activities.
Local Online Gambling Websites
Regarding online gambling websites operating within Canada, the general regulation that allows or prohibits them states they must be licensed and regulated by a recognized governing body within each province they operate in. As such, emerging digital casinos must work with these bodies to become certified before launching.
The two largest bodies are the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which regulates and licenses all sites within Quebec, and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). The AGCO is the largest governing body in the country and founded iGaming Ontario after the province decided to overhaul online gambling in July 2021.
Other bodies include the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch in British Columbia, Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis in Alberta, and the Department of Community Services in Yukon. Practically all other provinces and territories have specific governing bodies that oversee gambling websites in their regions—if any are available.
Each of these bodies sets out the regulations that casino operators must adhere to. They are also responsible for removing licensing from sites that do not adhere to the laws and ensuring that all gambling on local websites works in the player’s best interest and that the sites do not operate unethically.
International Online Gambling Websites
Things are slightly different regarding international online casinos offering Canadian players services. No set law stipulates how these should be dealt with, and even the Canadian Criminal Code makes no particular provision for such websites.
Because of this, these sites operate within a grey area of the law and are neither permitted to legally offer their services to players nor expressly prohibited. All provincial governments have also been mute on accessing online casinos that operate from a location outside of Canada.
As such, players from any province in Canada can access international online casinos without any fear of retribution from local law. This is one of the reasons that so many global providers cater to Canadian players and are keen to tap into its gambling industry.
Even though players can access these websites, they are urged not to unless they reside in a province where local sites have yet to launch. Since these sites are regulated outside of Canada, they may not operate according to the same strict standards that ensure fair play, honest dealings, and security.
While these sites are uncommon, and all the casinos best suited to Canadians are licensed and follow strict protocols, those within the country’s boundaries can follow local conventions and laws.