A guide to the Canadian gambling laws

September 1, 2021
Canadian laws on online casino and gambling
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Laws are created and formulated to guide the affairs of a group, an organization, or a country at large. Gambling laws are rules and regulations put in place to guide gamblers, casino operators, and their activities. Each country has its own gambling laws usually enacted by a regulatory body that binds the legal gambling in such country.

Canada is an open country with a unique blend of urban natural modernity and natural beauty where people’s choices and freedom are upheld at all times. The country takes pride in its robust gaming industry and the gambling laws formulated to ensure the smooth running of the industry.

Gambling in Canada has a long history and had existed long before the 15th century when the settlers first came, so it is expected to be legal. However, Canadian lawmakers have always been in discord over matters relating to gambling laws in the country such that some of the rules and prohibitions as far back as the nineteenth century were still in power until recently.

Canadian lawmakers and citizens have managed to take on an even-handed approach to gambling despite the charm of easy money. However, the laws on gambling remain flexible in most cases while keeping the public’s welfare in mind.

This article provides a guide to the gambling laws in Canada especially as they apply to several forms of gaming. It highlights the history of gambling laws in Canada and what is obtainable now. It is pertinent to note that this article is just a guide, so it is best to always consult a government agency or an attorney if you desire to be cautious before becoming a Canadian gambler.

Gambling Laws and Regulation in Canada

There have been several gambling laws in Canada beginning with the 1867 Constitution Act which later metamorphosed into the Criminal Code in 1892. Later on, some of the provisions of these acts were amended in 1900, 1910, 1925, 1969, 1985, and 1999. Each amendment meant new ways and approaches to gambling and ranged from banning gambling activities to making it legal.

Illegal gambling thrived in Canada several decades ago as the area of organized crime especially as the country had banned most forms of gambling before 1970. However, things started taking a different turn in 1970 when average citizens began to have access to illegal gaming activities.

The ‘Code’ (federal criminal code) is the overarching law that oversees gambling activities in Canada. The provisions of Sections 201 to 206 make all lotteries, betting, and gambling illegal throughout Canada although there are very few exemptions like pari-mutuel betting on horse races as far back as 1985. This Criminal Code deals with a wide range of illegal gambling offenses among which the following are most common:

  • Section 201: including many offenses like keeping a betting house or common gaming
  • Section 202: tackles illegal betting, pool-selling, and book-making.
  • Section 206: offenses associated with lotteries and other related games of chances
  • Section 209: deals with cheating at games of chance like lotteries with an intention of defrauding either the house or the customer.

The several amendments mentioned above gradually gave room for some gaming activity. For example, raffles and bingo were allowed for charitable purposes in 1900, exhibitions and fairs were allowed to apply for gambling licenses so that they could hold gambling events in 1969.

The major amendment was in 1985 where territories and local governments in Canada were given the power to legalize, manage, and control lottery, slot gaming, and other gaming devices playable on the computer. 1999 also saw the suspension of the acts from the Criminal Code which hitherto banned gambling, thus local governments were given the liberty to manage and legalize all gambling forms.

In 2010, the offenses listed above were also amended in the Criminal code and considered to be serious offenses although the punishment for such offenses in Canada is not so grave, with the maximum punishment being a 5-year prison term.

Gambling Regulation in Canada Now

As each of the 10 provinces (Prince Edward Island, New FoundLand, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario) were now allowed to regulate gambling, a new era emerged and land-based casinos began to open up in the country.

This development gave rise to betting agencies in each province to license casino operators. The regulatory bodies also ensure that gaming providers create a fair and safe gaming environment as they oversee the location of the facilities and the games they offer.

Generally, gambling laws in Canada are lenient compared to their neighbor in the south because the country is a progressive nation. Thus, a form of gambling can be said to be illegal within Canada if it is not managed or licensed by the government.

These provincial regulatory bodies also regulate marketing and advertising of relevant gambling products, set tax and duties which firms must adhere to, also enact the provision of the Code regarding proceeds of crime, and also ensure that firms protect consumer's interests. They do this through laws and Acts formulated like the Consumer Protection Act in Ontario.

On the other hand, online casinos are managed and licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. Surprisingly, gambling laws in Canada currently prohibit the setting up or running of any online casino within the Canadian territory. However, it is legal and safe for Canadians to play at other casinos offshore which makes Canada lose out on revenue and tax it would have gotten. For example, 392 million Canadian dollars was recorded in offshore casinos as the gross gambling turnover in 2019.

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Last updated: November 25, 2022