Is Gambling Legal in Canada? Everything You Need to Know

We can divide worldwide gambling into several distinct categories: banned, unregulated, partially regulated and fully regulated. It’s not like they go from worst to best. Each of these categories can be beneficial as well as harmful. As much to casinos as to players.

For instance, fully regulated market seems like the best option. However, countries tend do go overboard with regulations. As a result, players are deprived of choices and the benefits of a competitive market.

Where does Canada stand in all of this? Is gambling legal in Canada?

Well, just like many things in life, it’s complicated. Here’s why.

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Is gambling legal in Canada?

Whenever you hear someone ask ‘is gambling legal in Canada?’, you can help them out by saying ’Yes’. You will be absolutely correct. Although, if they start asking more question, you may run into trouble if they start asking more question. Not because there are various restrictions and limitations, because Canada does not regulate gambling on a federal level.

So, each of the 10 provinces and 3 territories (Northwest territories, Yukon and Nunavut) has their own laws and regulations regarding local gambling. So, not only the rules differ a lot between Alberta and New Brunswick, but they change a lot, as well. Which makes writing about Canadian gambling quite hard.

For example, legal gambling age in Canada is 19. But, there are there exceptions, where players can enter casinos from 18 years of age. That’s Alberta, Quebec and Manitoba.

In short, yes, gambling in Canada is legal. However, you must check for specific laws that apply to your province.

Different ways to gamble

Another reason why there many discrepancies between gambling laws in Canada is the myriad of ways you can play. Take, for example, lottery. For most, it’s a harmless activity. A weekly family tradition, even. Why wouldn’t be if the government itself runs lotteries?

Or horse racing. Many don’t see it as gambling. More like leisure time. Something to do on a weekend afternoon. That’s because horse tracks in Canada have been open for hundred years.

And then, of course, there are casinos, which is seen as a true form of gambling. This is the part where the lines blur. That’s because of a piece of legislation written 30+ years ago.

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Live casino and online gambling – Canada

Would you believe that Canada legalized online gambling in 1985? It’s true. At least in part.

Yes, internet wasn’t really a thing back then. But computers were. Incredibly, in the key legislation where the power to regulate gambling went fully to the provinces, there was a provision which included gambling on a computer.

As you see, accidentally, Canada legalized online gambling even before it even existed.

Is this particular piece of legislation really that important? Well, yes, it is paramount. For one, it’s the last piece of significant legislation to determine the rules of gambling in Canada. And since the power to choose went to the provinces and territories, the government closed the gates for any kind of federal law.

That’s why playing in an Ontario online casino may be very different from playing in British Columbia.

As a result, in the decades to follow online casinos as well as land-based gambling soared in Canada. In fact, casino tourism grew exponentially. Especially in 2000s, due to the UIGEA act of 2006 passed in U.S., which basically prohibited U.S. banks process any payments from offshore gambling sites.

But it doesn’t mean that the situation is perfect.

Looming changes

It’s hard to say whether anything will change when it comes to gambling laws. But based on the discourse around the topic, it may. Because the system certainly has flaws in it. So, you see politicians come back to the topic almost every year.

For example, as it stands, Canadians cannot play in Canada-based online casino operators. How can this be? The same legislation that gives freedom to gamble, takes it away. That’s exactly what happened. In an attempt to regulate, Canadian lawmakers in 1985 blocked any way a company operating on a Canadian soil would be able to offer legal online gambling in Canada, which, of course, didn’t stop offshore companies.

And that’s an issue. Because while you as a Canadian do have the freedom to gamble from the comfort of your own home, it becomes very hard to argue your case when any issue arises. Imagine if the company suspected you cheating and closed your $5,000 account. You’d want to go to court and prove your innocence.

Plus, you must be wary of which banks you used. Due to the aforementioned UIGEA act, U.S.-based banks may refuse to process any payments going to or coming from offshore gambling companies even for Canadians.

Is change coming? And how likely it is? At this point there are no bills doing rounds in government buildings. But the change in the next 5 years is very likely to happen.

Should Canadians be concerned? Concerned? No. Cautions? Yes. It’s worth remembering that historically Canada has always been of outlawing casino games. Especially craps. They became legal in Canada only in 1998.

And it’s not like nothing is happening. On individual level, provinces are experimenting as much as their imagination allows. Quebec even sold the rights to operate in the area to the gambling giant, Amaya Gaming Group, the owner of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

In any case, if legal online gambling in Canada is an issue you support, it’s certainly advised to keep your eyes peeled and contact your representatives. Because changes will inevitably come. The question is what it will mean to the players.