History of Gambling Legislation in Canada

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When settlers first started to take control of Canada during the Gold Rush of the 15th century, gambling was an unregulated pastime. However, by 1892, the Criminal Code came into force and made most forms of betting illegal. Luckily, in 1910 an update to the law allowed parimutuel betting and a handful of casino games designed to raise money for charity. This dynamic remained until the Criminal Code was updated again in 1970, this time to devolve power and give provinces the right to enact their own gambling laws.

Provincial Powers

What did this mean in practice? In simple terms, gambling hasn’t been outlawed at a federal level and, therefore, each province has been given the power to develop and implement its own gambling laws. From this, live casinos have flourished, with the first one opening in Winnipeg back in 1989. Online gambling has also found a way to flourish without breaking the Criminal Code. Although each province has its own law governing gambling, there are some commonalities between them. While specific legal language may differ, all local government agencies seek to uphold principles like:

  • The protection of players and the integrity of the gaming industry.
  • Preventing malicious, criminal or unfair persons or businesses from entering the industry.
  • The promotion of responsible gambling.
  • Overseeing where gambling facilities are located and their size.
  • The types and numbers of games a gambling facility offers.
  • Which Agencies Control the Regulatory Landscape?

Before we let you go off and explore our Canadian gambling hub and some of our recommended online casinos in Canada, let’s quickly take you through the provinces and their betting agencies. As we’ve said, the regulation and oversight of gambling in Canada takes place on a regional basis through the following 10 governing bodies:

  1. Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario
  2. Québec Gambling Commission Link + Kahnawake Gaming Commission
  3. Alcohol and Gaming Authority Nova Scotia
  4. New Brunswick Lotteries and Gaming Corporation
  5. Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba
  6. British Columbia Lottery Corporation
  7. Prince Edward Island Gambling
  8. Newfoundland and Labrador: Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC)
  9. Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA)
  10. Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission

Gambling is also permitted and regulated in the territories of Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories.

Live vs. Online Gambling Laws in Canada

One important thing to note about Canadian gambling law in general is that it doesn’t explicitly define land-based and online betting. Unlike countries such as the US or UK where gambling laws draw a legal line between betting via mobiles or computers and betting in person, Canada has stuck with a catch-all approach. So, if Canadian law doesn’t define online vs. live gambling, what does it define?

Perhaps the most important phrase to note in Canadian gambling law is “lottery scheme”. The basis of all provincial laws can be traced back to this term which, unlike other countries, has a very broad meaning. Indeed, in the UK where the word “lottery” would refer specifically to a game involving numbered balls, gambling law in Canada defines it as any game or device that deals with elements of chance, skill and wagering.

The Canadian Lottery Scheme

The catch-all term “lottery scheme” covers a variety of gambling activities as defined in the Canadian Criminal Code. Indeed, if we look at the various ways you can bet, Canadian law handles them in the following ways:

Casino, poker, slots and bingo games: These games aren’t referenced specifically in the Criminal Code, but are understood to be lottery schemes. As lotteries are legal, so are all of these games.

Lotteries: Only provincial governments (and some charities) can offer actual lottery games in Canada.

Sports betting: The one area where the Canadian Criminal Code does have something specific to say is sports betting. Bets on a single event are deemed illegal. However, it is legal to make multiple bets (i.e. more than one selection with a single wager) and parlay bets.

So, can you walk into a bricks and mortar casino? The answer is yes if you’re 19 years old or over. Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec are the only provinces which will let 18-year-olds gamble, so our younger readers might need to wait a year before booking any holidays to Canada. This, in a nutshell, is what Canadian casino law is all about. Depending on the province you’re in, the rules will be slightly different, but you'll find casinos, poker, sports betting, lotteries and bingo along with your Tim Hortons, maple syrup and Mounties.

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