Is Online Gambling Legal in Canada?

Published: 24 March 2020

Written by: BryanL

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Gambling is always a prickly topic.  In fact, it has been so since the first betting houses opened up in the 17th century.  Knowing your rights, as well as where and how much you are allowed to wager at any point, is critical.  A single bet can get you into hot water if it does not correlate with the legal framework of the place where it’s conducted.

Online Gambling Regulations in Canada

Canada has had a firm policy on gambling for a very long time.  The first inhouse casino opened its doors in 1989.  This was followed by a 15-year hiatus before the first online casino in Canada welcomed its first players in 2004.  

Today, there are ample casino sites for Canadians to choose from, with each one being governed by either provincial or national laws, that often exist in a bit of a grey area.  The ambiguity mainly stems from the fact that the internet does not distinguish or pay much attention to provincial boundaries.  Furthermore, a large number of gambling sites are based in such unassuming places like Malta, the Isle of Man, Cyprus and Gibraltar, where the rules that govern gambling are twistable and local authorities welcome the tax revenue generated by the online casino industry.   

The one defined limitation is that no local company can operate an online casino from within the country unless it’s located in the Indian reservation of Kahnawake.  Alternatively, Canadians can access any online casino that operates offshore.       

Can a Canadian get into trouble by playing at an online casino? 

As it stands, no law in Canada currently prohibits any Canadian from betting at an online casino.  Nonetheless, Canadian gambling laws are in a desperate need of a revamp, and there is a fair deal of uncertainty whether current legalities will remain in the future, especially regarding the issuing of online casino license documents. 

Further to this, the legalities of a foreign-based online casino operation can be summed up by looking at the rights of an offshore site to accept bets from Canada and what the law stipulates about Canadian generated bets.  For Canadian gamblers’ peace of mind, it can be noted that the Criminal Code does not make wagering one’s money through an offshore site illegal.     

Gambling age in Canada

Each country has its predefined minimal gambling age which, in most instances is 18 years old, such as in the EU (this excludes Greece, where the minimum age of gambling is set at 23).  In Canada, this age is determined by the individual provincial authorities, which in most instances is 19.  The only exceptions to this rule are Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, where the minimum age is 18.         

Ultimately, the online casino is held responsible when an underage person gambles. Stringent security checks are conducted when a new profile is being registered to determine whether that individual is of the legal age.

Canadian associations closely linked to online casinos

Two associations in Canada oversee the online casinos and all the gambling that takes place online:

Canadian Gaming Association

This is a non-profit organisation that deals with the awareness of online gambling in Canada, by promoting the ethical values in the Canadian gaming industry, through studies, innovations and education drives.  The association also provides a forum where online players, gaming professionals and the Canadian government can come together and engage in productive dialogue.  The ultimate aim of these discussions is to make sure that everyone is aligned legally to the national legislative framework when it comes to online gambling.

Kahnawake Gaming Commission

Kahnawake Gaming Commission regulates and licenses several online casinos, sportsbooks and online poker rooms, as well as three in-house casinos located within its jurisdiction.  Kahnawake First Nation of Quebec, just down the road from Montreal, is not physically offshore.  Yet, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission is currently one of the largest online gambling hosts around the world.   The commission was set up in 1996 after the Mohawk Council enacted the Kahnawake Gaming Law.  This gave the territory the right to govern gambling laws autonomously.  Over and above this, the Kahnawake Mohawks are allowed full sovereignty to govern themselves, allowing for over 50 online operators to be licensed there.   

Provincial gambling regulators

Each of the Canadian provinces has got its gambling regulator.  These regulators are expected to deter any online casino without license from setting up shop in Canada. They also act as a safety net for players and are money-laundering watchdogs.  Some of the principal online casino regulative bodies in Canada are:

  • Kahnawake Gaming Commission
  • Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Authority
  • Quebec Regie des Alcools des Courses et des Jeux
  • British Columbia Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch
  • Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario

How to find legal online casinos in Canada?

When deciding whether an online casino is legal, there are a few factors that you should take into consideration, that should help protect you and your money from unscrupulous operators:

  • Reliable operations – The more reputable an online casino is, the higher the chance it is reliable and does not dabble in underhanded activities. Always backcheck a casino through a simple Google search and see what comments and reviews other players have left. 
  • Registered and licensed – Only play at a casino that’s been accredited with a reputable gaming authority. Membership of Malta Gaming Authority, UK Gambling Commission and Kahnawake Gaming Commission are good indicators that the casino is fully licensed.
  • Payment options – Look for casinos that accept payments in Canadian dollars. Also, acceptance of Visa, MasterCard, Neteller, Skrill and Citadel indicate that a safe and secure transactional framework is in place.

While many Canadian online casino players are waiting with bated breath to see whether an overall betting legal framework will be enacted, the knowledge that it’s fine to bet online if all the preconditions are met will have to suffice for now.  Once fully regulated by federal law, online gambling in Canada will become more straightforward, and choices will become more diversified for the players.   

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