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Canadians love to gamble, to the extent it is estimated to be a $13 billion industry annually, meaning more than $1000 per household is spent every year on average.
The Canadian gambling industry is diverse, too, with many land-based casinos across the 13 provinces and territories. But it is probably sports betting, despite technically being illegal, that is the most popular form of gambling.
Ice hockey, basketball and baseball are all prominent in Canada, with many ”offshore” bookmakers accepting custom in Canadian dollars. There are limited Canadian-sanctioned sports betting options, with most punters electing to wager with sites licensed in places as diverse as the United Kingdom, Malta and Gibraltar.
Online casinos are also heavily frequented by Canadians, with most of the popular ones again being licensed offshore. Despite not being based in Canada the casinos will cater to the CAD and many bring great reputations as they chase the lucrative market.
Canada has some of the quirkiest sports betting laws in the world; the one law that hinders sportsbooks based in Canada is that they cannot accept single-event wagers on sports. But there is also nothing in the laws of Canada stopping people from betting on sports with offshore betting sites.
The online sportsbooks on offer that are licensed by the various provinces are very limited, with SportsInteraction the best of them. These restrictive laws mean most of the bigger sports betting operators have chosen to not set up a base in Canada.
While there has been plenty of talk about sports betting regulation in Canada, which would likely mean official licensing for popular sites such as William Hill and Bet365, there has been minimal movement on this front in recent times.
The Canadian Football League, while not as popular as the NFL, has a strong following in Canada with most sportsbooks offering extensive odds, on both match day and prop betting. A few select sportsbooks even offer futures markets on things such as the Grey Cup outright winner.
Horse racing in Canada is also popular with a thriving scene largely based in Ontario. It has taken a hit in recent times after a change in a government funding model but has continued to be a popular pastime.
While the sites regulated by the Canadian government are OK, the WGL recommends wagering with one of the many far superior offshore sites. As at 2018 there has never been a Canadian prosecuted for betting with an offshore sportsbook and they cannot be under current laws.
Another great perk of betting online is that you can receive sign-up bonuses and other promotions for being a member. This often is a great way to enhance your betting balance. Read our guide to online sportsbook bonuses in Canada for more information.
Parimutuel betting is from the French term Pari Mutuel, and directly means mutual betting. It is a system devised where all money wagered is put into a pool and then a vig or taxes are deducted so there is money generated for the house. The pool is then split between winning bets and in turn decides the odds and payouts. It is often referred to as the Tote or Tote betting.
In Canada the government controls parimutuel betting through a special “Operating Agency” of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada that supervises the practice on horse racing across the tracks in the country. The Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency is funded by an 0.8% levy of all bets placed in Canada. There are other provincial and race club taxes and levies, some of which are used to fund racing and community projects.
There are more than 100 casinos located across the 10 provinces and three territories of Canada, of varying sizes. These are licensed by the individual local governments and operate under their specific laws and regulations. The “gambling hubs” of Canada are probably the southern provinces Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.
The casinos are owned by both the Canadian government and the First Nations Tribes with some casinos located near the US border proving a solid tourist attraction.
There are mixed feelings towards the First Nations casinos in Canada, with some believing they foster gambling problems on the reserves, while others argue they create jobs and stimulate the economy. We are not sure what is right in this case but the River Cree Casino was one hell of an experience when we passed through Alberta.
One of the major casino companies in Canada is Gateway Casinos, which controls 26 venues in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia, with the company weathering somewhat of a storm in 2018 when its 700 workers went on strike for more than four months, demanding better pay and working conditions. This standoff ended at the start of November of the same year.
While many of the casinos in Canada might be as small as a room with a dozen slots and a few electronic games, there are some great gambling venues.
Some of the biggest casinos in Canada are:
River Rock Casino: Sitting next to the Fraser River in Western Canada, River Rock Casino boasts more than 900 slots, a large poker room and many table games such as blackjack and roulette. It also has the famous high-stakes Dogwood Club.
The River Cree Resort and Casino: In Edmonton, The River Cree Casino has over 1000 slots and about 40 tables for patrons. You will also find off-course betting at this great venue.
Casino de Montreal: Situated in Quebec over five floors, the Casino de Montreal is one of the biggest of its type in the world. Features more than 3000 slots, more than 120 tables and a massive poker room which generally has upwards of 20 tables running.
Online casino gambling in Canada is not clearly covered in law. This means there are no online casinos licensed by the Canadian government.
The exception to this is the Kahnawake Gaming Commission which is based in the Province of Quebec. It has been a contentious licensing body in Canada with some politicians labelling it illegal, however, there are still online casinos licensed by this body, but these generally won’t service the Canadian market.
The lack of true regulation in Canada means most people wishing to wager at an online casino will do so at an offshore site, with many of the world’s best casinos — licensed in places such as the United Kingdom, Sweden and Malta — accepting Canadians and CAD deposits.
You will find casinos with leading software providers such as Microgaming, Playtech, NetEnt and Betsoft and be able to play everything from live-dealer card games to thousands of different slots — giving you much more choice than you will find at land-based casinos.
We will go into more detail about the best casinos for Canadians to play at in further articles, but for now rest assured you can gamble at many offshore sites without fear of running foul of officials.
Canada has some huge lotto jackpots up for grabs on a weekly and daily basis, with these draws governed by five different corporations, with each territory or province falling under the jurisdiction of these bodies. The lottery operators, which as a collective are part of the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation, in Canada are:
Because these bodies are effectively one corporation, it allows pool sharing between the provinces and territories which creates huge jackpots like Lotto Max and Lotto 6/49, with the former having a $CAD60 million winner in October of 2018.
The Liquor and Gaming Authorities in each province of Canada have effectively put in legislation that allows legal lotto games to be held, with some local governments following the legislation of bigger neighbouring governments.
Lottery tickets are available to purchase at news agents and other retail outlets across Canada, while the online aspect has not been neglected, with it possible to open an account at your province’s dedicated website.
The big disruptor in the lotto scene is “synthetic lotteries” like Lottoland which effectively let Canadians bet on draws from all around the world, with the payouts insured by the operator. Using Lottoland as an example, the operator, since August of 2017 has operated in Canada and is licensed offshore meaning they pay no tax in Canada. If the habits of Canadians mimic those in other countries where Lottoland or other lotto betting companies have entered, where tax made by the government on the lotto is greatly reduced, we could see changes in the laws surrounding what is legal and what is not legal.
The legal gambling age in Canada usually corresponds to the legal drinking age, which is set by the state or province you are in.
In Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec you must be 18 to gamble at a casino or wager on sports, with the remainder of Canada setting the legal at 19.
Each different gambling pursuit is governed by different laws in Canada, about which we will go into further detail in more articles down the track, but as a general rule you can gamble online in Canada without fear of getting in trouble.
The two levels that govern gambling in Canada are Sections 201-206 of the Federal Criminal Code, which effectively rules that all types of gambling and sports betting, barring parimutuel horse racing betting, are illegal, but these laws don’t effectively cover the online aspect of modern gambling.
A 1985 amendment, Section 207 of the Federal Criminal Code gives permission for the provinces and territories of Canada to provide regulated gambling.
Each province and territory has a body that oversees their land-based casinos, poker rooms and other forms of gambling like lotto and bingo. While there has been some progress from the provinces in launching online gambling products (think sites such as SportsInteraction) the fact that Canadians can still legally play or bet at offshore companies with a superior product mean the local brands face stiff competition.
A remarkable fact about Canadian gambling is that for a long time our very own Kahnawake Gaming Commission helped flout the US laws banning sports betting and gambling and licensed brands that were openly accepting players from across the border. When the Kahnawake body eventually said enough is enough, no more marketing to the USA, brands such as Bovada promptly ditched their accreditation.
There has been some pushback against the laws of Canada from anti-gambling factions, but this has just resulted in things like tighter restrictions around advertising, including in television and print.
Generally each of the 10 provinces and three territories will have their own guidelines surrounding gambling.
Gambling in Canada has been around for a long time but it was largely illegal until the 1970s. In fact gambling was common among the First Nations Tribes of Canada and perhaps led to the current situation in Canada, which we will talk about in a second.
The first heavily documented Canadian gambling came in the 1930s and 40s and included illegal gambling rings such as sports betting and gambling halls, which were largely run by organised crime syndicates.
Things changed significantly as the government adapted to the changing society in the 1970s as certain types of gambling were made permissible. This included some forms of lottery and on-course bookmakers.
The biggest change in gambling in Canada came in 1985 when provinces were granted permission to operate things such as lottery draws, bingo halls, casinos and slots parlours.
Another groundbreaking moment in Canadian gambling came when the First Nations Gaming Act was signed into tribal law in Saskatchewan, by the Sasketchewan Indian Gaming Authority, in January 1996. This effectively allowed the traditional tribes in Saskatchewan to operate gambling on their land. By the end of the same year the Bear Claw Casino, Gold Eagle Casino, the Northern Lights Casino and the Painted Hand Casino were opened.
Since this time four other provinces have enacted similar models with the casinos under the rein of First Nations Tribes estimated to be worth about $1 billion each year to the Canadian economy. In total there are 20 First Nations Casinos in Canada in 2018.
A section on Canadian gambling history would not be complete without talking about the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, the online regulatory body set up in the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake. Originally the body was set up to manage things like slots and gambling venues, but now only licenses three poker venues. However, they license hundreds of online casinos and sports betting websites, with the licence considered to be one of the easiest to get in the world.
There have been very few cases where there have been arrests made in Canada because of gambling offences, but usually they surround a unlicensed operator based in Canada offering gambling services to its citizens.
One unique case was when British Columbia took almost $6 million in revenue from Delaware-based Starnet Communications International, who were found to be providing gambling services to Canadians in 1999. The company was also fined $100,000 and found to be running their operations in Vancouver.
A more recent example of the hard-hitting authorities came in 2013 when Ontario authorities made raids on the offices of Platinum Sportsbook, where they seized more than $2 million in funds and arrested 19 people.
Depositing money at an online sportsbook or casino can be daunting, but the reality is there are protections in place for players to make sure nothing goes wrong. The methods we can use to fund a gambling account, including those licensed in both Canada and offshore, are plentiful and include things such as credit and debit cards, payment processors such as InstaDebit, which is a very popular option, and other web wallets and cryptocurrencies.
This can be one of the most challenging parts with online gambling, receiving your payment after you have scored a big win. In theory you should receive your payout within 2-5 business days, but this largely depends on the operator you are dealing with.
You also need to be aware there can be limitations put on withdrawals by a gambling operator, like a weekly or monthly withdrawal limit, which is usually pretty high, but if you are seriously laying down some coin it might pay to do your homework on the site you are opting to sign up at.
Some of the more common ways Canadians withdraw money from gambling accounts include:
While Canada does not have a massively regulated market, it does boast some of the world’s biggest gambling companies, although many of these have been bought out by bigger international operators. Here are some of the more prominent ones:
Chartwell Technology: This software development company has affiliations with gambling giants such as Bwin and Betfair. Chartwell specialises in online casino software and employs over 100 people in three different countries, including at its head office in Calgary. The company was bought by the Amaya Gaming Group, the eventual owners of Pokerstars, in 2011.
FUN Technology: One of the most most well-known gambling companies in Canada, largely through its affiliation with Fantasy Sports. FUN was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2004 and the London equivalent the year previously. The company was eventually bought out by Liberty Media, which is an American-owned company, and FUN was discontinued as a brand in 2007.
Gateway Casinos: One of the biggest casino ownership companies in Canada, with 12 venues across British Columbia and Alberta. Founded in 1992 the company began with just two venues and 150 staff but in 2018 has over 3000 people in 12 venues. Some of the more prominent Gateway-owned gambling venues include Starlight Casino New Westminster and the Grand Villa Casino & Convention Centre.
Great Canadian Gaming: Great Canadian Gaming is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It operates 28 gaming venues across Canada and Washington State. They have casinos, horse racing tracks (That do feature slots) and smaller-scale venues like bingo halls. The company was founded in 1982.
Parlay Entertainment: A bingo software company that was founded in 1998 in Canada. Has both 75-ball and 90-ball bingo available and is known for having a patent for its bingo platform in Canada and the USA.
Sask Gaming: This is owned by the Government of Saskatchewan and is officially the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation. The company was set up in 1996 to run the Casino Regina, while it expanded to also open Casino Moose Jaw.
Stronach Group: Stronach Group holds interests in many horse racing tracks, including in the USA and Austria. The company is also heavily involved in parimutuel betting in the States. The company is headquartered in Ontario, Canada.
The Stars Group: Formerly known as Amaya Gaming, the company bought two of the world’s biggest poker operators Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker. Eventually rebranding to the Stars Group, the company now operates brands like Pokerstars, Pokerstars Casino, Betstars and Full Tilt Poker. The company also has strong interests in Australia, where it operates BetEasy after the high-priced purchase and rebranding of Crownbet and William Hill. The company is headquartered in Toronto, Canada.
Canada has a proud sporting history and boasts some globally popular teams across different codes. In no particular order the most popular sports teams from Canada include the following:
Toronto Maple Leafs: A true powerhouse of the NHL, the Maple Leafs are a divisive force in Canadian hockey, but undoubtedly the most popular sports team in the country. They play in the Atlantic Conference of the Eastern Division of the NHL.
Montreal Canadiens: Another hugely popular Canadian NHL team. Have a reputation for having the nicest fans in the game, unlike their bitter foes the Maple Leafs. But 24 Championships says it all – they simply are a juggernaut in world sport.
Toronto Blue Jays: Have traditionally had little success in Major League Baseball as they slug it out in one of the toughest divisions — the American League East Division. But despite this the Blue Jays have a massive fan base and are even popular with rival fans, who have a soft spot for their entertaining style of play.