Gambling laws in Canada
Gambling has taken the US and Canada by storm, but provincial and territorial laws in Canada make the rules about where and when you can play a little confusing. Discover everything you need to know about Canadian gambling laws in this guide.
On this page you’ll find:
A full guide to provincial gambling laws in Canada
Understanding illegal gambling
Tips on how to stay safe and gamble responsibly
Is online gambling legal in Canada?
Technically, online gambling is legal in Canada, provided the online casino site you’re playing at is located offshore. Local laws apply, so it’s important to seek out only trusted online casinos that are fully licensed and independently regulated.
Where the confusion lies is in the provincial laws, where gambling laws in Canada tend to differ from state to state.
According to gaming law experts, Dickinson Wright LLP
“Each province empowers an agency to act as the gaming regulator, and a separate provincial government-controlled corporation to conduct and manage gaming on the government’s behalf. The sole exception is the province of Alberta which merges those functions into a single government agency.”
published in Gaming, Gambling & Licensing, 2018 (public domain)
In 2012, British Columbia launched the first regulated and fully legal casino in North America. The PlayNow site offers online casino games and a virtual poker room to anyone over the legal gambling age who wants to play. However, its virtual casino doors are only open to residents of British Columbia.
Canada gambling regulations
Prior to 1969, you couldn't bet on anything in Canada other than horse races, charity lotteries, and lotteries that you might find at fairs. But that year, the federal government changed the Criminal Code to allow the federal government and the 10 provinces to hold lotteries.
In 1985, the federal government decided to hand off all gambling to the provinces. But the Criminal Code didn't actually change in terms of what people can and can't gamble on. These were our takeaways:
The Criminal Code
Section 201 - states that it's illegal to run a betting house or to be found in one. But it doesn't make any mention of an online betting house, so it's not clear whether Canadian online casinos and poker sites fall under the code.
Section 203 – exempts people from placing bets on behalf of others.
Section 205 – suggests anyone in relation to lotteries of games of chance is guilty of an indictable offence.
Section 207 – permits provincial governments, as mentioned above, to manage lottery schemes alone or with other provincial governments. It also mentioned that lotteries are lawful for charitable or religious organizations if licenced by the Lieutenant Governor in council.
The gambling loophole
While most online gambling offices are located offshore, a majority of the servers for some of the world's most reputable online casinos are actually based right here at home in Canada.
In 1996, a native reserve called Kahnawake Mohawk Nation established the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, offering gaming licenses to online casinos they believe qualified. While online gambling at the time was technically illegal in Canada, the Mohawk Nation argued that because they are their own sovereign nation, they, therefore, have the right to operate casinos.
Now here's where it gets tricky. The Kahnawake Mohawk Nation can essentially run a casino or at least lease space to all sorts of other online casinos from within Canadian borders and not be prosecuted. But private enterprises like horserace companies who operate legally within Canada are forbidden from operating online casinos or poker sites under the Criminal Code of Canada. But that's not to say no one hasn't tried.
In 1995, a company called Starnet Communications was created in Vancouver with the goal of developing, licensing, and providing Internet gambling technology and websites for casinos and sportsbooks. Because of the sketchy Criminal Code, the company set up offshore companies to carry out operations on the site. But the RCMP wasn't impressed.
In 1999, they raided the Vancouver offices, arguing that because the email servers were located in Canada, they were in violation of the criminal code even though the gaming servers were located offshore. That's not to say that every company operating from Canada since 1999 has been in violation of the law, but those who just didn’t get away with it.
How to avoid illegal casinos
The only way to avoid illegal casinos is to be aware of the law and play on reputable, regulated casino sites. Before we endorse any online casino, our team of experts always checks to ensure that the casino is licensed and meets our high standards of approval. Making the job for players even easier.
Gambling laws in Canadian provinces
Gambling is exceptionally popular in Alberta, with residents allowed to gamble at online casinos without any restrictions. It is also legal for those over the age of 18 to gamble at any of the 25 land-based casinos in the province. Sports betting is also popular, with players limited to making parlay style bets, and the maximum spend on sports betting is $250 per day.
The Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba oversees all gambling in the province, including online gambling. There’s only one official online casino in the province, which is PlayNow Manitoba, however there are no laws stopping residents from playing at a casino based overseas. Sports gamblers can bet via the Sport Select site and are limited to a maximum of $250 in bets per day.
Quebec has some of the most liberal gambling laws in Canada, with players able to play at a variety of offshore casinos, as well as at the government run Espacejeux. Mise-O-Jeu is the only regulated sports betting site in the province and players must bet on parlay bets. There are nine land-based casinos in Quebec, and they’re open to everyone aged 19 or over.
There are many legal forms of gambling in British Columbia, including 15 land-based casinos. When it comes to online gambling, the only official way to gamble on casino games and sport is via PlayNow, however there’s nothing in the law to prevent players from signing up with sites based abroad. As with most other sites, those betting on sport must place parlay bets.
Land-based casinos are completely legal in New Brunswick, although there is only one venue in the province. There is no official government run online casino in New Brunswick, however those looking to play casino games online are legally allowed to play at offshore gambling websites. Pro-Line is the only regulated sports betting site offered to residents of this Canadian province.
Land-based casinos are not permitted in this province, plus there are no online casinos regulated there either. There is no law in place to stop gamblers in Newfoundland and Labrador from playing at offshore online casinos though. The Pro-Line service is offered to all sports gamblers, with daily wagers capped at $250, although this cap isn’t found at most sites based abroad.
There are no land-based casinos in the territory, however there are no laws to prevent one opening in the future. Online casinos are not blocked, but there are none based in the Northwest Territories. Sports betting is popular, with the only legal service being the one offered by Sport Select, however many choose to play at offshore sports betting sites instead.
It is perfectly legal to gamble in one of the two government-owned casinos in this province. Those looking to gamble online can place bets at the Pro-Line site (all bets must be parlays, as is the case in most Canadian provinces), while online casino players are permitted to join any offshore online casino website. The minimum age to gamble in the province is 19.
In Ontario, it is completely legal to play at a land-based casino, plus many other venues also offer slot machines. The rules regarding online casinos are pretty relaxed, therefore residents can play at any foreign casino site - there is only one online casino regulated in Ontario though, and it’s PlayOLG. The Pro-Line sports betting service is offered to those looking to bet on sports.
There are no legal obstacles in the way of land-based casinos in Prince Edward Island, however there’s not currently a dedicated casino operating in the province. There is no regulation of online casinos, however those looking to bet on sports legally will have to use the Pro-Line service. The minimum age to bet on sports and play casino games in this province is 19.
Online casinos are prohibited from being based in Saskatchewan, however residents are not blocked from accessing casinos based in other provinces or countries. It is legal to base a land-based casino in Saskatchewan though. Sports betting is legal, providing it is done via the Sports Select service, and all wagers placed on sporting events (except horse racing) must be parlay bets.
Casinos are prohibited from opening permanently in the Yukon Territory, however licences are granted to temporary gambling venues, which can open for a maximum of three days. It is legal to play at online casinos, however none are licenced and regulated within the territory. Residents will find that Sports Select is the only service offering legal sports betting options.
New gambling laws in Canada?
With such disparity between Canadian provincial laws, it’s difficult to say the current laws will be reformed anytime soon. What's more likely is that gambling laws in Canada will become more liberal. With a deeper clarification of the Criminal Code, online gambling could be permitted across all states with no restrictions.
Unfortunately, if the government were to welcome competition with open arms, the provincial governments would be, well, up in arms since they have the exclusive legal right to run online casinos. Only time will tell.
While it might be tough to operate an online casino from Canada, finding a Canadian to play at, which ironically might be located in Canada, isn't difficult at all. We have tons of reputable choices, both in terms of provincially run options and internationally regulated sites. And we're willing to bet that it will stay that way for a long, long time.
The contents of this page are provided for informational purposes. It does not constitute legal advice and it should not be relied on as such. Before making any decision regarding participation in any online activity, users should seek independent formal legal advice.