Gambling Regulation in Canada
Online gambling is a modern-day rendition of an age-old tradition. It’s still the same thrill of chasing your luck with real money; it just happens to be on your screen now. The hype has spread worldwide, including the Dominion of Canada.
It’s the 2nd largest country in the world and a land of diverse cultures. And when there are many cultures and traditions, the laws must evolve as well to keep up with the ever-changing paradigm.
It’s true for both land-based and online gambling in Canada. There is no “one law fits all” in the country. No matter where you live, it’s crucial that you understand your local gambling laws before engaging in casino games or sports betting.
That’s where this post comes in. Consider this your ultimate guide to gambling regulation in Canada. We’ll start with the history and evolution of the laws and follow up with how the laws vary from province to province.
Get yourself a cup of coffee and settle in because it’s going to be an interesting ride.
History of Gambling in Canada
Historians believe gambling has been an important part of Canadian culture for centuries. Explorers found it in 1497, and they found evidence of gambling games among the natives. The First Nation tribes used to play stick games and dice games as games of chance to entertain themselves for centuries.
Interestingly, these games were not only a medium of entertainment but also a way to settle disputes. Imagine doing a coin toss to settle a bet now. As years passed, European settlers started influencing the gambling culture with horse racing and card games. It wasn’t until the 19th century that it became a widespread phenomenon.
By the end of the 19th century, in 1892 to be precise, the parliament of that time wrote the first version of the Federal Criminal Code. It’s believed to have been inspired by the English Common Law. With the rollout of the Criminal Code, all forms of gambling were criminalised unless it was for charity.
Since then, the criminal code has been consolidated and amended in 1906, 1927, and 1953. With each iteration, the legislation became more clear by eliminating inconsistencies. During the 1900s, games like Bingo, lotteries, and raffles started getting traction but for charity purposes only.
By 1925, provincial exhibitions and fairs started securing permits to host gambling events. The next big update in the legislation came in 1969 when Lotteries became legal across the board.
In 1970, the provincial governments got the power to regulate gambling as they saw fit. One year later, the first-ever casino in Canada started its journey. It’s the Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall in Yukon. Believe it or not, it’s still serving Northern Canada under the supervision of the Klondike Visitors Association!
The Revised Statutes of Canada or R.C.S. in 1985, along with the updated section 207 (1), ultimately opened the door for widespread gambling in the country.
The first gambling activity to emerge in 1985 was sports betting. But single-game wagering was still criminalised. The goal was to ensure the integrity of the matches.
4 years later, the very first land-based casino opened its doors in Winnipeg. No, Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall was not a casino. It was more of a nightclub with a few gambling tables. For this reason, Crystal Casino in Winnipeg is often considered the maiden voyage of gambling in Canada.
In the mid-1990s, when online gambling came into the picture, Canadians got access to them too. It’s simply because there are no provisions in the Criminal Code or any other legislation that could restrict access to offshore casinos.
Overview of the Canadian Gambling Laws
Enough with the history! If you’ve managed to sit through the lesson, you now know more about Canadian gambling history than most people do. It’s time for you to get back to the present. Let us elaborate on the current gambling situation in the country.
We’ve already stated multiple times that gambling is not regulated by the federal government in Canada, and it’s prohibited according to the Criminal Code. We’ve also mentioned that exceptions under multiple sections ultimately allow it. Let’s go over these said sections and see how the current status of gambling laws stands.
Let’s not quote the section verbatim. The essence of section 201 in the Canadian Criminal Code is that running a betting house or offering betting services to any Canadian citizen from within the country is illegal. If law enforcement finds such services, it can lead to a 2-year prison sentence. As you can see, “online” betting platforms are not mentioned here.
Section 203 of the same Criminal Code states that if anyone tries to place bets on behalf of others, it’s an indictable crime. If proven guilty, the person in question can serve up to 2 years in prison.
Section 207 has been the staple of all the amendments the Criminal Code of Canada has undergone. At least, for gambling. This section permits provincial governments to run lottery schemes either by themselves or in partnership with other provincial governments.
A subsection of this law, Section 207(4)(b), states that betting on any race, fight, or single event is illegal. This was amended with the C-218 bill in 2021.
The reason betting on single games or events is prohibited is due to the possibility of manipulation. Imagine a bettor who has an influence on a sports team’s management. He places a bet against the team and offers to share the winnings from the bet. If this were to play out, it would go against the moral code of sports.
The bottom line is that gambling is legal in Canada as long as it’s managed and regulated by the provincial government. No individual or company can run a betting house or a casino without a proper license from the appropriate wing of the provincial government.
Interestingly, none of the sections in the Criminal Code explicitly mentions online gambling, which makes the activity unregulated on paper. But the biggest online casinos and sportsbooks in the country are run by local governments!
C-218 Bill: The Latest Addition to the Existing Gambling Laws
In one of the previous sections, we discussed how sports betting was the first activity to become legalized in Canada. We also mentioned that single-game wagering was strictly prohibited, and only parlay bets were allowed.
It all changed with the C-218 bill, titled Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act. Basically, this bill decriminalizes single-game wagering in Canada as well as legalized betting on horse races and greyhound races.
After a series of debates going back and forth, the bill was finally passed by the Senate in August 2021.
Soon after the bill went through, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario launched Proline+, a state-owned online sportsbook that offers single-game wagering. Since then, a new influx of international bookmaking brands like DraftKings, BetMGM, etc., started applying for licenses to accept players from Ontario.
Provincial Gambling Regulations
From what you’ve read so far, you should understand that not all Canadian casinos fall under the same laws. So, why don’t we break it down for you by province?
Ontario is by far the most progressive province when it comes to gambling. It’s the first one to legalise online gambling, back in April 2022. Remember Proline+? It’s Ontario’s very own online sportsbook and casino. There are lots of Toronto online casinos as well as Ottawa casinos you can opt for as well.
You can play online slots, live dealer games, progressive jackpots, baccarat, roulette, and all other known casino games. At the same time, industry-standard sports betting features are available. We’ve got you covered if you want to know more about Ontario online casinos.
Quebec is the largest habitat for Francophones, and they have 4 land-based casinos and plenty of online casinos to play at. Also, there are a myriad of online casinos waiting to be explored by them. Both casino games and sports betting sites have been available in Montreal since the very beginning of legalization. Here is also the territory where the Kahnawake Gaming Commission is coming from.
After Ontario, it’s British Columbia that has a sustainable presence in the gambling scene. It’s the British Columbia Lottery Corporation that regulates everything, including Vancouver online casinos. Horse racing, casino games, bingo halls, community gaming centers, etc., are all available for players as long as they’re 19 or older.
Gambling is legal in Alberta thanks to the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act. Not only land-based gambling but online gambling sites also come under this act. In total, there are 27 land-based casinos and hundreds of offshore online casinos that accept players from the province.
The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority in Manitoba is responsible for regulating gambling in the area. Winnipeg is home to the first official casino in the country! It still remains the highlight of the gambling scene in Manitoba. Of course, online gambling is also legal in this Canadian province.
Saskatchewan has been a little slow when it comes to updating gambling laws. It launched PlayNow in 2021, the very first online gambling venture by the provincial government. As of now, online gambling and land-based gambling are both legal and regulated in the province.
Gambling in Nova Scotia is legal, and the whole paradigm is regulated by Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Authority. The only land-based option might be Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax but there are plenty of online casinos boasting offshore licences.
Although New Brunswick doesn’t have a gambling regulatory body of its own, the activity is legal. It’s the Atlantic Lottery Corporation that also regulates gambling in surrounding provinces.
Prince Edward Island
Just like in New Brunswick, gambling is legal in Prince Edward Island thanks to regulation from the Atlantic Lottery Corporation.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland is the only province in Canada with no land-based casinos. You can find a few video lottery terminals (VLTs) spread across. Thankfully, online gambling is legal and regulated by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation.
As we’re going out of the provincial jurisdiction, the regulation is changing. All gambling activity in the Northwest Territories of Canada is overseen by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
Controlled by the Western Canada Lottery Corporation, gambling in Yukon is a bit different. Sports betting is a more popular form of gambling than casinos. In fact, no for-profit company can apply for a casino license. The casino and sports betting options you find are all offshore.
In Nunavut, it’s the Department of Economic Development and Transportation that regulates online gambling. There are no land-based casinos in Nunavut, but you can choose from plenty of online casinos.
Online Gambling Regulations
If you’ve been paying attention, you would know that online gambling is more or less unregulated nationwide. The Criminal Code prohibits any party from offering online gambling services within the country’s borders. But offshore online casinos are still valid, and millions of players engage with them.
As for available games, all standard casino games are available. Like in any other country, online slots are the most popular games. As offshore gambling is a grey area, you can expect to find titles from pretty much all reputable software providers.
Then there are core casino games like Roulette, Baccarat, Blackjack, Dragon Tiger, Craps, etc. All of these games are available in multiple variants across online casinos.
Poker is one of the few games requiring more skills than luck. None of the existing legislation criminalizes poker. As a result, you can find plenty of offshore poker rooms where you can play for real money.
Apart from the known casino games, activities like Bingo, Keno, scratch cards, etc., are also abundant in the country.
Overall, it’s safe to say that you can enjoy the full range of online casino games in Canada as long as you’re of legal age. This brings us to the next section of our guide.
Gambling Age in Canada
Underage gambling is a serious issue all over the world. All governments go out of their way to make sure that no one under 18 is exposed to gambling, be it legal or illegal. It’s no different in Canada.
Although 18 is considered the universal minimum age requirement for gambling, it applies partially in Canada. As you already know, it’s the provincial governments that regulate everything. And they have the final say in who gets to gamble.
According to our research, only 3 provinces allow people to participate in gambling after they turn 18. They are Manitoba, Quebec, and Alberta. For the rest of the provinces, the minimum age is set at 19.
Then again, these rules are subject to change as new data surfaces. So, we urge you to double-check the laws of your province before you sign up for any online casino or sportsbook. The same is true if you want to walk into a land-based casino.
The good thing about brick-and-mortar establishments is that interested players must show ID before they can enter. It’s comparatively easy to exploit online casinos, as you can enter a fake date of birth during registration.
Thankfully, all licensed online casinos and sportsbooks are required to verify a customer’s identity with KYC (Know Your Customer) documents. In most cases, you’re required to verify your account before you can request your first withdrawal.
As for documents, customers usually need to submit a copy of their ID (Canadian passport or driver’s license), a copy of a utility bill (no older than 3 months) to prove residence, and a copy of a credit card (both sides). Depending on which casino you opt for, the requirements can vary a little.
Regulatory Bodies and Their Role
Since the very beginning, we’ve been recommending that our readers should always opt for licensed online casinos. Where do these licenses come from, you ask? They’re granted by gambling regulatory bodies.
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KCG) is the only international body out of Canada. Interestingly, the Federal Government of Canada doesn’t recognize KGC.
However, it’s an internationally respected authority that licensed hundreds of online casinos. It came into operation back in 1996 and licensed its first operator in 1999. It’s operating at full force! As offshore casinos are legal in Canada, casinos licensed by KGC are also legal.
Then there are provincial regulatory bodies you already know about. Every province has its own authority responsible for overseeing gambling. Here is a quick list for you.
- Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario
- Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission
- British Columbia Lottery Corporation
- Western Canada Lottery Corporation
- Loto Quebec
- Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Authority
- Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority
- Gaming, Liquor and Security Licensing Branch New Brunswick
- Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba
- Atlantic Lottery Corporation.
Sure, all of these regulatory bodies share different characteristics and follow different legislation, but they still work toward the same goal. By that, we mean ensuring the integrity of gambling operators and games as well as investigating allegations of wrongdoing.
Tax Laws Related to Gambling Winnings
Generally speaking, winnings from gambling are not subject to taxation in Canada. It ultimately depends on what kind of gambling activities you’re engaging in and how much you’re making from them.
Gambling winnings that can be classified as “windfall” are not taxable in Canada. This includes lotteries, slot games, bingo winnings, etc. The simple reason here is the dependency on luck. You can’t use any strategies or tricks to change the odds of these games.
But when it comes to games of skill like Poker or Blackjack, you may have to pay regular income tax on the winnings. Then again, the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) must identify you as a “Professional Gambler” before it can tax you.
In simple words, a professional gambler is someone who earns their livelihood from gambling. Full-time poker players and sports bettors are usually considered professionals.
Even if your winnings are not taxable, you must declare it with the CRA. This applies as long as you’re within the country’s borders.
Responsible Gambling and Player Protection
Responsible gambling is a universal concept that all casinos must employ. The goal is to prevent issues like gambling addiction with awareness and actionable steps. For example, all land-based casinos monitor how long a player is engaged in a game. If the authority notices irresponsible behavior from any of the guests, the security will escort him/her out.
In online casinos, responsible gambling is a bit trickier. A lot depends on the players and how they approach. Every online casino has a dedicated “Responsible Gambling” page on the website, and we highly recommend that you start there.
On such a page, you can expect educational information on what responsible gambling is. You can also expect a questionnaire to determine if you have a problem. Most importantly, online casinos offer tools like deposit limits, session limits, wager/bet limits, self-exclusion, and cooling-off.
To help players struggling with gambling problems, casinos share contact information for non-profit organizations. In Canada, the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is the most well-known. Then there are other local programs like PlaySmart by OLG and Connex Ontario.
Future of Gambling Regulations in Canada
Land-based gambling has been around in Canada for a very long time. There is a good balance between province-owned casinos as well as private casinos. We don’t see the paradigm-changing for land-based casinos anytime soon.
Online gambling, however, is primed for a massive boom in the upcoming years. Privatized gambling went live very recently. So far, only Ontario started changing the local laws to encourage more international operators to come in.
This means the rest of the 9 provinces are yet to act. When they do, we believe the verdict will go in favor of the gamblers. Every province will benefit heavily from the new streams of revenue!
The landscape of Canada is so large that even online gambling laws vary from province to province, let alone traditional gambling. In this guide, we’ve tried to gather as many details on gambling regulations in Canada as possible.
But you should always double-check the gambling laws of your province, as legislation is always dynamic. One of the characteristics of a responsible gambler is always keeping track of the regulations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- How is gambling regulated in Canada?
Gambling is regulated on a provincial level in Canada. The available gambling components, the minimum age to play, and even the taxation laws vary from province to province. We see a very similar approach in the US too.
- Is online gambling regulated in Canada?
Online gambling is not federally regulated in Canada. Section 207 of the Criminal Code allows provincial governments to “conduct and manage” gambling services. It may or may not include online gambling.
- Who regulates casinos in Canada?
The Canadian Gaming Association is the national trade association that regulates, advocates and collaborates with operators.
- Is it illegal to play poker for money at home in Canada?
It’s a tricky question to answer. If you’re hosting a friendly game between friends and family, it’s not illegal. But if you’re making profits as the host, it’s illegal.
- Do you pay tax on gambling in Canada?
Unless you’re classified as a “professional gambler” in Canada, gambling winnings are considered “windfall” and not taxed. It’s the CRA that determines whether you’re a professional gambler or not, depending on how much you win.
- What is the most popular illegal gambling in Canada?
All forms of online gambling can be considered Canada's most popular illegal gambling activity. For the longest time, the Federal Criminal Code prohibited gambling. But no laws are in place to stop the residents from accessing online gambling sites.
- Who regulates online gambling in Canada?
The whole paradigm is monitored and regulated by the Canadian Gaming Commission, also known as the Canadian Gaming Association.
- When did Canada legalize online gambling?
There is no clear timeline regarding the legalization of online gambling in Canada. Data shows that the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) launched the country’s first legal online casino in 2004.
- Who regulates gaming in Ontario?
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario regulates gaming in Ontario. The available locations are managed by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
- Where in Canada is gambling illegal?
Gambling is illegal and legal at the same time all over Canada. It depends on who manages the services providing gambling games. There is no particular area in the country where gambling is totally illegal.
- What is illegal gambling in Canada?
Unless licensed and managed by the provincial governments, every form of gambling is illegal in Canada. Also, betting on extreme events like blood sport is illegal and is punishable by law.
- How much tax do you pay if you win the lottery in Canada?
A lottery under Canadian laws is considered a “windfall”. It means the outcome is completely based on luck. You’d be glad to know that gambling windfalls are not taxable. To answer your question, you don’t have to pay taxes if you win the lottery.