In August 2021, the Canadian federal government passed the statute Bill C-218 into law, which legalized sports betting in the country for the first time.
The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act lets each territory and province decide whether they want to lift the prohibition on wagering or not, and at the time of writing, provinces such as Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia have decided to move forward with lifting restrictions.
The passage of this bill reflects the softening stance on gambling in the country, although other forms of betting have been legal in Canada for some time. Canadians, for example, have been allowed to play at online casinos for a number of years – although not expressly allowed in some provinces, there are no laws against playing blackjack, roulette, slots and similar games online.
That said, for the most part, players have had to access offshore casino sites, with so few licensed operators active on Canadian soil. Thankfully, there’s a great selection of licensed casinos offering a variety of slot games and related action to bettors in Canada from overseas, but it will be interesting to see how the situation changes in the years to come.
With Canadian punters now free to wager on sports and casino games legally and without restriction, the country is on its way to becoming one of the most liberal gaming destinations in the Western world – a far cry from the days when both hobbies were strictly forbidden.
Betting on sports in Canada
A change in the law on sports betting in Canada has been a long time coming.
Even as recently as the 1970s, you could wager on the odd horse race and lottery, but there was no movement on allowing all sports betting legally in the country.
However, that all began to change in the 2010s, when more and more government officials began warming to the idea of legalizing sports wagering in Canada. That eventually manifested itself formally as Bill C-218, which made its way to the federal government for further consideration.
As previously mentioned, the bill was given the green light in 2021 – ostensibly to enable Canadian provinces to raise more income through taxation, while pulling the plug on an illegal ‘black market’ of punters betting with unlicensed and often unregulated bookmakers based overseas.
“Canadians will have the opportunity to participate in single-event sport betting in a regulated and safe environment, at the discretion of the provinces and territories,” said the Attorney General David Lametti when confirming the lifting of the ban.
It wasn’t a blanket lifting of the prohibition on sports wagering, of course, but it has devolved the decision-making process to provincial powers. At the time of writing, seven provinces have legalized sports betting online, with a further five allowing punters in their specific region to place bets at a physical location – be it a dedicated sportsbook, casino or racetrack.
This means that single-event sports wagering has been legalized in Canada for the first time – prior to 2021, bettors were only able to back two or more selections as part of a parlay ticket. The odds of winning parlays are lower than singles because all legs of a bet must prevail for the parlay to be paid as a winner, and so the decision of the federal government to open the door to legal single-event sports betting in Canada has been met with plenty of enthusiasm.
Online casino gaming in Canada
Often, lawmakers in Canada and the US have had something of a consensus on how to govern their respective countries.
But online casino gaming has been an area in which they have differed completely. Canadian authorities don’t have any explicit rules against players accessing offshore casino sites, whereas in the US, this is strictly forbidden.
In fact, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement of Act 2006 was devised primarily to bring an end to offshore and black-market gambling in the US, with the new legislation actively banning banks and payment firms in the country from engaging in any activity with overseas casino sites. It led to many gambling brands – including globally recognized names – pulling out of the US market altogether.
In Canada, meanwhile, overseas firms were enjoying great success, and so entrepreneurial Canadians decided the time was right to try and take back a slice of the market themselves.
The Kahnawake Mohawk Nation were the first to make a concerted effort at establishing their own online casino niche. In 1996, they founded their own gaming commission, with the desire to hand operating licenses to casino brands who they deemed to fit their requirements.
The problem was that online gambling, still in its infancy at the time, was also outlawed by Canadian federal law – leading the tribe to argue that, as a sovereign nation, they should be free to set their own laws on gaming. The situation became rather bogged down by bureaucracy and red tape wrangling, and in the end, it’s fair to say the Kahnawake plan for legal casino gambling never really took off in a mainstream way.
However, things have changed since then. In 2012, PlayNow became the first recognized online casino headquartered on Canadian soil – British Columbia, to be exact – to be available legally to domestic players. It offers slots, card games and other casino favourites, but the rub is that you must be physically located in British Columbia to get involved.
It would still be a decade before another province made a concerted effort to join the fold. Ontario, the most populous region in Canada, has recently provided the major breakthrough that the legalized online gambling movement needed in the country.
In April 2022, Ontarian governors revealed that they would allow operators to set up shop in the province while still allowing overseas operators to welcome players. That gives casino lovers in Ontario a fantastic opportunity to play their favourite games in a thriving and competitive market – at long last.
How long will it be before other Canadian provinces follow suit?