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Canadian Online Gambling Laws

Canada Gambling Law

For quite some time, the nation of Canada has been friendly to the gambling industry. Betting’s legal status is left up to each of the country’s ten provinces, similar to how some legislation is left to be done at the state level rather than federal in the United States. While the regions vary somewhat concerning what they allow, one can find land-based casinos, sportsbooks, and online gaming options across the land.

Each of Canada’s provinces is treated as their own gambling jurisdictions. Technically, betting on land or online is illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada, but there are exemptions that allow provincial governments to enact their own legislation regarding the many facets of gaming.

Not only do they determine what’s legal within their area, but they are also responsible for licensing and regulating the gaming activities within their borders.

In addition, there are the First Nations casinos scattered throughout the country on protected land. Much like the Native Americans in the US, Canada’s native reserves are their own sovereign nations and thus allowed to pass gambling laws on their land as they see fit. For this reason, there are numerous “offshore” online betting options that are actually housed within the borders of the country.

This article will give an overview of the gambling laws in Canada. We’re going to look at the history of wagering in the country, the existing relevant regulations, and which activities are available in each province. Lastly, we’ll help you determine how much the various betting laws impact you, the player.

Overview of Canada’s Gambling Laws

As previously mentioned, the legalities of gambling are primarily determined at the provincial government level in Canada. Federally, there are some restrictive measures in the country’s Criminal Code, but with the exemptions allowed to provinces, they aren’t enforced unless the individual regions outlaw betting themselves.

As a whole, Canada is an incredibly gambling-friendly country. You can find lotteries, casinos, online wagering, racetrack betting, and everything else in the country, although some regions may ban specific types of gaming.

Overwhelmingly
strict
strict scale Very Strict
Not at all
strict

Basically, a gambling activity is illegal unless expressly licensed or legalized by the local government. With so much potential revenue on the line, almost all territories in the nation have authorized some form of gaming. For these reasons, Canada gets an excellent grade on the strictness scale.

Our strictness scale takes multiple factors into account, including access to various gaming activities, government regulation and licensing, and potential penalties for individual gamblers. In Canada’s case, people looking to place bets while in the country have very little to worry about.

There are some restrictions within individual provinces, which we will cover more closely later in the article, but for the most part, you will always be able to find some gambling opportunities within any province in Canada.

Legislative Restrictions on Online Gambling

Online gambling falls into a tricky area when it comes to Canadian law. In reality, there are no laws that expressly deem gambling over the internet illegal. There are no distinctions in the Criminal Code between land-based and online gaming, so it’s assumed the online variations would merely have to follow the current rules. However, that includes the fact that it’s only legal to bet with operations which are licensed and regulated by the government.

Despite such a rule, there are thousands of offshore gaming websites available from within Canada, most of which are owned and operated by First Nations tribes. As Michael Lipton, a gaming law expert in Toronto, explained, “As far as I’m concerned, you as a player aren’t committing any criminal offense by being in a position where you are engaged with an offshore operator playing poker, playing slots, or whatever the case may be.”

One factor that complicates matters in Canada, at least legally, is the presence of the First Nation “offshore” gambling services. One of the most prominent sovereign nation jurisdictions is the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, and they’ve so far been allowed to operate their online betting websites within the country without having a case brought against them.

Technically, they aren’t regulated by a Canadian provincial government, but the federal laws have not been enforced on offshore operators regardless. In fact, nowadays, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission is one of the largest online gambling hosts in the world.

Canada Federal Gambling Laws

Canadian Criminal Code

For much of Canada’s history, betting in any form was made illegal by a set of sections within the Canadian Criminal Code. The laws still state that both online and land-based gambling options are prohibited in the country. However, these rules are overruled by an amendment that says that provinces and territories may legalize, operate, and regulate gaming as they see fit in an effort to raise funds for the locale.

Now, the federal gaming laws have minimal impact over the actual betting activities taking place throughout Canada. All jurisdictions have legalized some form of gambling or another, with most regions offering multiple types of betting to their residents. Below are the relevant sections which may still be found in the Criminal Code.

Relevant Sections of the Criminal Code

  • Section 201 – Includes numerous offenses, mostly dealing with keeping or operating a common gaming or betting house
  • Section 202 – Makes placing bets of any kind illegal, as well as importing gambling materials and promotions, book-making, or pool-selling
  • Section 204 – Legalizes pari-mutuel gambling throughout the country, giving the legislative authority to the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency
  • Section 206 – A litany of offenses related to hosting or participating in lotteries and other games of chance
  • Section 207 – Gives provinces and territories the authority to provide lottery schemes and other gambling activities to the residents of their respective jurisdictions
  • Section 209 – A law making cheating illegal when it comes to games of chance, particularly with the intent to defraud either the customer or house

Gambling Laws by Province

Since 1985, the bulk of the responsibility as it concerns gambling has fallen squarely on the shoulders of individual provincial governments. The federal laws make it a point to allow each province and territory to set their own rules and regulate gaming as they see fit. Some form of betting is permitted in each province, but they still vary from region to region in minor ways.

There are ten provinces and three territories in Canada. Each area acts as their own gambling jurisdiction, passing laws, organizing licensing, regulating gaming, and enforcing rules. The following sections break down which activities are legal in each region and give brief overviews of the age restrictions, specific rules to be followed, and the regulatory bodies enforcing the laws in each location.

Ontario

  • Regulatory Body: Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO)
  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use Pro-Line service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? No

Summary:

Ontario is a province in which plenty of gambling activities are available. Residents are able to gamble at land-based casinos, racing tracks, off-track betting sites, locations that offer Pro-Line sports wagering services, and anywhere that sells lottery tickets. At many of these spots, slot machines can be found, as there are more gaming devices in Ontario than any other province.

The lottery can be played by anyone in Ontario age 18 or over. For the casino games and other betting activities, however, the minimum age to participate is 19 years old. Ontario operates one of the most extensive lottery networks in North America, bringing in an excess of $3 billion back in 2011.

Residents of Ontario may legally wager on sports through the Pro-Line parlay sports betting game. If they desire a more robust slate of sports betting action, using an online sports betting site hosted on a First Nation reservation is the most accessible route to go down.

Quebec

  • Regulatory Body: Regie des alcools, des courses et de Jeux (has authority on operating casinos, contests, and certain kinds of lotteries)
  • Societe des loteries du Quebec (regulates gaming machines, lotteries, and bingo)
  • Is online betting legal? Yes
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Residents can wager on Mise-O-Jeu, a specific parlay-style sports gambling game which is available for play at convenience stores
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? No

Summary:

In Quebec, the legal age for all betting activities is 18. The province has several brick-and-mortar casinos with a variety of table games, slot machines, and video lottery terminals.

There are also numerous lotteries and raffles, a single horse track with multiple off-track betting facilities, and limited online gambling options. The local government owns Espacejeux, an online gaming site license by the state, but have expressed plans to have ISPs block unlicensed operations from being accessed from within the province.

Sports betting is currently limited to Mise-O-Jeu, a parlay-style sports betting game. The bettor may wager on anywhere from two to eight contests, all of which must win in order for the player to collect any prizes.

Nova Scotia

  • Regulatory Body: Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel and Tobacco Division of Service Nova Scotia
  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use Pro-Line service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? No

Summary:

Nova Scotia is Canada’s second-smallest province in terms of area of land. Like most provinces, gambling activities are legal for residents aged 19 and older. There are two government-owned casinos and three race tracks available in this region, in addition to multiple lotteries, slot machines, and video terminals. There are also many off-track betting locations for those racing fans who can’t make it to the track any given day.

Like other Canadian territories, sports gambling is somewhat limited. Rather than having access to the full range of wagering opportunities, gamblers in Nova Scotia are limited to the Pro-Line parlay system exclusively when betting on sports legally. The province owns no online gaming sites of their own, but offshore sportsbooks and casinos may be utilized without fear of persecution, which is another option for fans of sports betting.

New Brunswick

  • Regulatory Body: Gaming Control Branch of the Department of Public Safety
  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use Pro-Line service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? No

Summary:

In New Brunswick province, anyone over the age of 19 may choose from a variety of betting activities in which to legally take part. With less than one million residents, the region doesn’t have much need for too many land-based gambling locations. There is only one casino and two permanent horse tracks, although this does not substantially limit one’s gaming options.

Numerous lotteries can be found and purchased at over 900 dealer locations, as can the Pro-Line sports gambling game. The parlay cards may be picked up at participating stores or purchased online. New Brunswick was the first province to legalize video lottery terminals, and over 2,000 machines are currently in use. There are no government-operated online betting sites, but there are many offshore options available to local residents.

Manitoba

  • Regulatory Body: Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba
  • Is online betting legal? Yes
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use the Sport Select system only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? Yes

Summary:

Manitoba is one of the three provinces that allows 18-year-olds to legally gamble. The region has multiple casinos, some owned by the government and others owned by First Nations interests. There is also a licensed online betting site called PlayNow Manitoba operating within the borders of the province. The local lottery is handled by the Western Canada Lottery Corporation.

Sports betting in Manitoba is slightly different than many other regions. Rather than the Pro-Line game, the Sport Select system is utilized. Handicappers can bet up to $250 per day on two or more results, making this a parlay-type system as well. There are legal video lottery terminals in this province, but they are confined to special lounges which are overseen and monitored by the provincial government.

British Columbia

  • Regulatory Body: Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch of the Ministry of Finance
  • Is online betting legal? Yes
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use Pro-Line service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? Yes

Summary:

Gaming in British Columbia is offered and regulated by the British Columbia Lottery Corporation. Players must be 19 years or older to participate in any betting activities. While online gambling is legal in B.C., there’s only one state-run betting site: PlayNow. The website offers sports betting, bingo, poker, the lottery, and various casino games.

There is only one active horse track: Fraser Downs. However, for those who like betting the horses but don’t have time to visit the track, there are fifteen off-track locations in which to make your picks. Sports betting is limited to parlay-style games, which can be purchased at participating convenience stores. There are fifteen casinos in British Columbia, only one of which belongs to the First Nations.

Prince Edward Island

  • Regulatory Body: Prince Edward Island Lotteries Commission
  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use Pro-Line service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? No

Summary:

Prince Edward Island is the smallest province in all of Canada. The tiny region shares many similar laws with the other locations, including the minimum betting age, which is 19 years old. The gaming in Prince Edward Island is overseen by The Prince Edward Island Lotteries Commissions, which has been regulating the industry in this province since 1976.

Lotteries are operated by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation. For sports betting, the Pro-Line service is available, which allows bettors to place parlay bets on two or more sporting results but is somewhat more limited than a full online sportsbook. There is only one legal casino in the area, an establishment that mixes slots and table games with horse racing.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Regulatory Body: Consumer Affairs Division, Consumer and Commercial Affairs Branch of Service NL
  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use Pro-Line service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? No

Summary:

The gambling laws in Newfoundland and Labrador allow residents 19 years old and older to participate in a variety of betting activities. What makes this region unique is that land-based casinos are actually not legal. The lotteries, including the video lottery terminals, are overseen by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation. There is one legal horse racing track, St. John’s Racing and Entertainment Centre, which also simulcasts their events to off-track betting sites.

There are no online betting sites operating from within the Newfoundland and Labrador borders, but offshore options are available. Sports gambling is handled by Pro-Line, a service that provides parlay-style sports betting. The parlay cards may be purchased for as little as $2 and as much as $250 and can be bought at participating retail locations and convenient stores.

Saskatchewan

  • Regulatory Body: Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA)
  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use the Sports Select service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? No

Summary:

Saskatchewan as a province spends more money gambling per capita than any other region in Canada. The lottery has been available here since 1974 and is operated by Saskatchewan Lotteries. For online gaming, providers are barred from basing their services in the province, but offshore operations may serve the residents of this area. There are also eight land-based casinos serving this community.

Video lottery terminals are also a favorite way to gamble in Saskatchewan, so much so that a cap of 4,000 machines is in effect. Sports betting is handled by Sports Select, a system which allows for parlay betting, with a maximum daily wager of $250. Furthermore, there are three licensed horse tracks in the region, as well as numerous off-track betting locations.

Alberta

  • Regulatory Body: Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC)
  • Is online betting legal? Yes
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use the Sports Select service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? Yes

Summary:

Alberta is one of the three regions in Canada which allows gambling to begin at age 18. This province earns over 4% of their annual budget from gaming revenues, good for first place in the nation. There are over 25 casinos in this area, many of which are run as charitable operations.

The computerized gaming devices are managed by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, while the daily lotteries are overseen by the Western Canada Lottery Corporation.

Video lottery terminals can be found in age-restricted locations which have liquor licenses. There are over 6,000 machines in operation across the province. Residents of Alberta are allowed to access online gaming sites, though none are owned and operated within their borders. Sports betting is done through Sports Select, a parlay betting service that can be found online or in participating retailers.

Gambling Laws by Territory

North of latitude 60o north and west of Hudson Bay are the Canadian territories. These regions are similar to the ten provinces, but they don’t have the sovereign rights that those more well-populated locations have. Instead, the lands are mostly governed by the federal government.

The territories each treat gambling differently. In all cases, online betting is generally in the same grey area we find elsewhere throughout the country. While it’s not technically legal without a government site in operation, residents can access offshore variations without fear of persecution. Sports betting is handled by Sport Select in all three territories, allowing locals to wager on two or more results in a parlay-style bet.

The three regions are so sparsely populated that there are no permanent racetracks or casinos. In the Yukon, three-day casinos are occasionally opened, allowing residents to play table games and cards. There’s also Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall, the nation’s oldest casino, which opens and runs from May through September each year.

Northwest Territories

  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes – Only if conducted by non-profit organizations
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use the Sports Select service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? No
  • Is online poker legal? No

Yukon

  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use the Sports Select service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? No
  • Is online poker legal? No

Nunavut

  • Is online betting legal? No
  • Is charitable betting legal? Yes
  • Is pari-mutuel betting legal? Yes
  • Are lotteries legal? Yes
  • Is sports betting legal? Partially – Gamblers may use the Sports Select service only, a parlay-style sports betting system
  • Is racetrack betting legal? Yes
  • Is online poker legal? No

How These Gambling Laws Affect You

The gambling laws in Canada are treated in such a way that there’s nothing for the average gambler to worry about. In most cases, the provinces have legalized almost all forms of betting. The one major exception would be sports betting, which is limited to parlay wagers with capped max bets throughout the nation.

While there’s no legal way for residents to access more advanced forms of sports wagering, they are able to utilize offshore websites. These offshore sites, whether they’re in the Caribbean or the First Nations land in Canada, provide traditional casino games and sportsbooks online. While the operations aren’t licensed within the borders of the country, they aren’t illegal for individual bettors to use, either.

So, the actual gambling laws in the country hardly affect you, at least not in a negative way. If you enjoy betting your money on sports, racing, or games of chance, Canada is the place for you. Each province provides lotteries, track betting, casino games, and sports betting in some shape or form. First Nations websites are there to pick up the slack in whatever ways any of the jurisdictions are slacking. Overall, there are lots of opportunities with almost zero risks for you!

History of Gambling Laws in Canada

1892

The Canadian Criminal Code is enacted, and gambling is made illegal throughout the country.

1900

An amendment to previous gambling laws is made. Raffles and bingo games for charitable purposes are now allowed.

1925

Another amendment allows fairs and exhibitions to apply for a license and hold gambling events.

1969

The Criminal Code is once again amended so that federal and provincial governments can run lotteries and gambling activities to raise funds.

1974

The first legal lottery in Canada is held for the purposes of raising funds for the Montreal Olympics.

1985

Another amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code is made, this time giving provincial governments and territories control over the legality and administration of slot machines, video lottery terminals, and other computer-based gaming devices.

1989

Canada’s first commercial casino is opened in Winnipeg.

1993

Montreal’s first land-based casino is opened.

1999

The amendment banning gambling in the Criminal Code is officially shot down. It is now entirely an issue for provincial governments, all of whom legalized some form of gaming or another, if not many.