History of gambling in Canada

John Cabot

Think gambling is a relatively new phenomenon in Canada? Think again. Of the two words Gambling and Canada, the latter is actually way ahead on the Canadian gambling timeline.

Canada was born in 1867, but long before the guy who adorns the 10-dollar bill became our first Prime Minister, the natives were testing their luck with various forms of gambling.

In 1497, John Cabot discovered a native population who played games of chance. The games were said to help their physical, mental, and spiritual growth. Cabot dug deeper into the phenomenon and unearthed proof that people were gambling as far back as the year 6000 B.C.

Of course, dice and cards weren't the norm way back then. The gambling scene in Canada back then involved sticks and pebbles, but the basic gambling concept was the same.

But just because something had been done for years, it doesn't mean that it would remain respectable.

An outright ban of gambling - and a change of heart

Ban on Gambling

In 1892, the Canadian Criminal Code banned every form of gambling. That didn't last too long, though. As times changed, so did perceptions on gambling. In 1900, bingo and raffles were permitted for charitable purposes. Ten years later, horse racing was added to the list of acceptable forms of gambling. And in 1925, fairs and exhibitions were granted the right to hold gambling events.

In 1969, the Canadian government saw huge value in lotteries. So they amended the Criminal Code to allow both the federal and provincial governments to run lotteries to fund special projects. The very first lottery was held in 1974 to raise funds for the Olympics in Montreal.

Over the years, the provinces were given more rights to run lotteries, horse races, video slot machines, and casinos. Today, you can find casinos in almost every province in Canada. And over the years, they've become huge attractions for people who love to gamble and be entertained.

The casino-government relationship in Canada varies from province to province. In some provinces, casinos are owned and operated by the government. In other provinces, they're owned by the government but operated by private enterprise. No matter who runs them, they're big business generating big profits.

The rise of land-based casinos in Canada

Ceasars Casino Windsor

$439 million. That's how much Caesars spent on renovating and rebranding the casino in Windsor, Ontario a few years back, which is now known as Caesars Windsor. The Ontario casino on the Detroit border rivals some of the high-end casinos you'd find in Sin City.

On the surface, a half-a-billion dollars seems like a hefty figure to spend on renovating a casino that was already serving its purpose and attracting crowds. Prior to the transformation, Casino Windsor wasn't exactly a dump. Sure, it was showing some age, but you can find a lot less impressive casinos across the U.S.

And it's not like people who love to go to Vegas are going to suddenly stay home because a casino has been remodeled to feel like Vegas. Nothing can replace Las Vegas, and diehard Sin City fans will still head to Nevada to get their casino fix.

So who exactly was Caesars competing with? Some argue it was MGM on the Detroit side. But let's face it. Detroit is, well, Detroit. And citizens on both sides of the border would much rather head to the much safer Windsor than deal with who knows what in Detroit.

The real competitors live thousands of miles away, but as close as just a click away.

How online casinos and poker rooms have changed the game

For Canadians, gambling is all about options.
Online poker changed the game

Today, thousands of real money online casinos dominate the Canadian casino space. Hundreds of poker rooms and literally thousands of different online casinos do what the government couldn't do - bring a casino into the homes of people who love to play games of chance.

And you don't even have to search hard to find one. In Canada, it's common to see advertising for free-play poker sites and casinos on national broadcasts, including sporting events.

Billions of dollars are being spent on gambling by Canadians, and online casinos that aren't necessarily based in Canada are taking a bulk of the money. So does that mean that the government casinos are taking a hit? Not necessarily.

In Ontario, the government has authorized several new casinos to be built. Private Las Vegas enterprise has jumped at the opportunity of operating a casino in Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, and elsewhere, and it's only a matter of a few years before new, luxurious gambling palaces open up.

If anything, online casinos are actually fueling interest in land-based casinos. For many, playing online doesn't replace playing live just as buying a CD doesn't replace going to a concert. If you love gambling, you'll be after all sorts of gaming experiences - online and live.

Just look at the World Series of Poker for proof. In 2001, before the online poker boom, there were 612 entrants in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker. In 2012? A total of 6,598 players took a seat in the Main Event.

How the world views gambling today

How the world views gambling today

Online gambling has actually brought semi-professional gambling into the mainstream - and it's completely changed the social perception of gambling. Just take a look at poker again for proof. Prior to the 2000s, if you told someone you played poker for a living, you were viewed as a degenerate gambler or a criminal. People assumed you played in illegal card rooms or in underground basement casinos. And if you got far enough in the conversation to tell them you played in legal poker rooms in Las Vegas, they'd likely assume that you live in your car, trying to repay a series of gambling debts.

Today, if you tell a new acquaintance that you play poker for a living, they might assume that you're well off, perhaps living in the lap of luxury. If you're playing poker for a living, the new argument goes that you're obviously making good money at it.

The change in perception comes from the fact that we've all watched doctors, lawyers, accountants, day traders, college professors, and all kinds of professionals trade in high-paying jobs for poker chips. We all realize that gambling is more than dropping chips on the felt and crossing your fingers. It's about knowing how to make the right bets at the right time, and it's about outsmarting your rivals.

The future of gambling in Canada

Future of gambling

For Canadians, gambling is all about options. In Canada, you can play online. You can play in a government-run casino. You can head to a racetrack. You can play in privately operated casinos, like Caesars Windsor. You can play pretty much anywhere.

That's the reality today. But what does the future hold?

As the provinces get into the regulated online casino space - British Columbia and Quebec both have casino sites, and Ontario is building one as we speak - Canadians are going to have even more choice. The provincial online casinos might have to join forces to create a national online casino if they want to compete with international sites that have a decade-long head start.

But no matter who comes out on top - whether government online casinos, international online casinos, or a healthy mix of everyone - one thing is almost certain. Canadian gamblers will continue to have tons of choice. And at the end of the day, that makes the Canadian casino player the ultimate winner.