Gambling has existed in Canada for a long time, before the country was settled by Europeans. In the early days of European settlement many forms of gambling were outlawed, but those laws were more or less universally ignored. Gambling became fairly common, but in 1894 a law was passed that banned gambling for good, and this time the country paid attention.
The laws were written in what was known as the Criminal Code, and this remained unchanged for some years. In 1910, a minor change was made to allow pari-mutuel betting in horse racing, where some of the money goes to the track, the jockeys and others involved. The gambling laws in Canada remained relatively unchanged for sometime, although there were a few small amendments from time to time.
In 1970, however, another sweeping change was made, and the laws written at that time still control how gambling operates in Canada to this day.
Is Gambling Legal in Canada?
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. It never usually is, as gambling laws are notoriously contradictory. This is in part down to online gambling and the fact that this wasn’t around when many of the gambling laws were created.
The Criminal Code of Canada was definitely not created when online gambling was around. The last time these laws were updated the road was paved for land-based casinos and other forms of gambling to take over Canada’s towns and cities.
Also, nowhere in the Criminal Code does it say that online gambling is illegal. Of course, the actual code is rather complicated and in many ways it seems to contradict itself, but no one has ever been arrested for online gambling and the biggest sites in the world accept Canadian players. There was a time when the Attorney General deemed that casinos hosted on Indian reservation servers were illegal, but this accounted for a very small minority of online casinos and other gambling sites, and no individual Canadian players faced prosecution. In fact, the servers are still running in Canada and and no further action has been taken against them either. Why they would pick on Indian reservations when they usually have it the easiest is anyone’s guess, but as nothing came of it this only cemented the notion that the lawmakers have no issue with online gambling in Canada.
The issue with Canadian law is that many people automatically assume it is similar to US law, which is far from the case. In the US it is illegal for players to play online poker, but Canada supply more players to sites like Pokerstars than many European countries do. In the US sports betting is illegal in most states, but in Canada no such restrictions apply and Canadians can even join and place bets on the biggest online sports betting sites and betting exchanges. There is a restriction that says Canadians can only make bets on three or matches at any given time, which is senseless to say the least and does not do anyone any favours. There are talks to remove this from the Criminal Code though, as it seems like an archaic and pointless fragment of a very misguided law.
A good indicator of whether online gambling is legal or not is whether or not the country taxes individuals who gamble on a regular basis. In Canada, the laws in this regard are very similar to the laws in the United Kingdom. Those who win money betting on sports books are not subject to any tax on their winnings. However, professional poker players, those who win consistently, rely very little on luck and make gambling their living, may be subject to tax.
There is cause for concern in the fact that whilst land-based gambling generates a lot of tax revenue for the country, online gambling does not. Localized online gambling might do, as this can be taxed and it also creates jobs and boosts the economy of a region. However, as things stand there are more Canadians gambling on foreign sites than on Canadian ones. Whether this spurs the government into licensing more local online gambling sites or whether it forces them into restricting foreign gambling sites is anyone’s guess and only time will tell. There are regulatory bodies within Canada that operate sites, including the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. These regulate a number of gambling sites which operate on their servers.
To operate a gambling site in large parts of Canada you basically need to go through the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which doesn’t exactly make things easy and certainly doesn’t inspire new companies to open up within the country.
Long Story Short: Will I be Arrested for Gambling Online?
Simply put, no. If you did it wouldn’t make much sense, it would go against the Criminal Code and you would be the first to be prosecuted in the history of online gambling in Canada, one that has involved millions of gamblers. This applies to all forms of gambling as well, from poker and online casinos, to sports betting. In such cases it’s often best to put your fate in the hands of those that know best. Online casinos, sports books, poker sites and betting exchanges make it their job to know whether their services are legal in certain countries. After all, they can lose a lot of money and even their business if they get it wrong.
Admittedly, not all provinces in Canada operate on the same laws, but if you are able to signup to sites like Spin Palace and BetFair, and if you are able to deposit money and place bets, then you can pretty much guarantee that what you are doing is legal. So, although the gambling laws seem to contradict themselves, although they don’t seem to address online gambling directly and although they were written decades before there even was such a thing, you can rest assure that online gambling is legal in Canada. So enjoy yourself and place your bets.