Such was the rapid growth of online gambling following the unprecedented adoption of the Internet for consumer use in the later 90s, and so slow the response of the domestic legal system to respond to that impact, it can be a little unclear just where Canadian players stand. Up until the 1970s the Canadian legislature took a relatively dim view of gambling, and it wasn’t until a change in the Criminal Code at that time that attitudes began to change. Greater power to decide such issues was devolved to the provinces and territories in the mid 80s and, as a result, some regions moved forward to formally legalize lotteries and licence land-based clubs.
Clearly in the mid 80s the idea of the consumer internet, let alone online casinos was way off the radar, so whether the reach of that original legislation extends to modern remote gaming is a moot point. However, in practical terms, it seems that Canadians have been free to enjoy online casino gaming without threat of prosecution, indeed many provinces have even established their own casino sites following official tenders.
Important facts on gambling in Canada
The Criminal Code is the formal codification of Canada’s criminal law principles and procedures. With regard to online gambling, in simple terms the act of gambling itself is not considered illegal unless the player is underage or the activity precipitates an expressly prohibited act. However, the Code has been interpreted to suggest that it could prohibit Canadians from remote gambling on a website located in another jurisdiction. That clearly sets alarm bells ringing since many of the best online casinos are operated from European locations such as Malta and Gibraltar, but it should also be noted that there is no mechanism in place to effectively enforce the prohibition.
No prosecution of any Canadian citizen: To date there has been no prosecution of any Canadian citizen for online gambling. However, the domestic online casino business had fallen foul of the law most notably in 2007. In that year the hosting of remote gambling servers on the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve was deemed illegal under Canadian law, and a fine of $2 million levied. This judgement is still the subject of appeal and the Reserve still continues to operate its business.
Sports betting: With respect to sports betting Canadian law explicitly allows parlay bets of three or more matches, and the industry continues to lobby for further relaxation of the Criminal Code to permit wagers on single sporting events too. The position with online poker gaming is less clear, however there is nothing on the statute books that expressly forbids it and so, until such time as it is expressly determined, players should be confident that their participation is not breaking the law.
Gaming regulation in Canada
Regulation: Regulation is a necessary element of casino gaming, with the intention of ensuring consumers can expect fair games operated in environments that are run with honesty and integrity. Within Canada, as mentioned earlier, individual provinces hold the power to regulate gaming in their area and set the terms and conditions of operator licences for both land-based and online clubs. One slight exception to this, also mentioned earlier, is the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. Whilst located within Canada, the Reserve is considered a discrete jurisdiction in its own right and licences operators from beyond its territory.
Interestingly many of the best online casinos are operated under formal gambling licences issued by the UK, Gibraltarian, Alderney or Maltese Gambling Commissions. These are highly respected regulators, and compliance with their licences is a strict (and expensive) affair so, from a player’s perspective, playing a site holding at least one of these licenses is a good marker of its propriety.
So can I legally play online casinos?
The short answer is “yes”: If you’re resident in Canada and don’t breach age limits, online gambling is not going to get you into legal trouble, particularly if you’re choosing to play one of the official provincial casinos. The answer is slightly more qualified if you are planning to join and play a club licenced outside of Canada, however no player has yet been sanctioned for doing so and highly reputable sites continue to accept players from the territory. That in itself is a good sign, but not conclusive of your right to play so if in doubt take responsibility for checking the position with a site before you commit to playing. Reading a casino’s terms and conditions is nowhere near as fun as playing its games, but may help you answer the question as to whether they can accept your custom.
Hopefully in the future Canadian lawmakers will update the law to explicitly codify the freedoms and limitations of its citizens to enjoy online gambling, but in the meantime on the balance of probabilities responsible players should be able to enjoy their pursuit with a clear conscience.
Disclaimer: This article should not be considered legal advice. Local legislation, restrictions and enforcement are subject to change. In addition, we have no responsibility to update this page for events or circumstances occurring after the date of its initial publication