The History and Development of Betting and Gambling in Canada

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History of Gambling. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Gambling in Canada stretches back to the pre-Columbian period, before the arrival of the European settlers in the new world. 

Precolonial Forms of Gambling in Canada

Some records indicate that native peoples of Canada’s Pacific Northwest played a game called slahal during the last ice age. The game was seen as a bloodless war game, where one group of male warriors would face off another in a contest of skill and luck. 

The game used deer shinbones, with each team being given a chance to hide either an unstripped or a stripped bone and the other group having to guess which one was hidden. The winning team would be awarded the correctly guessed bone, and the game would continue until one of the sides ran out of its set of ten scoring sticks.

European Influence on Canadian Gambling

When the Italian explorer, John Cabot, reached the coast of eastern Canada in 1497, he was very familiar with gambling. Cabot, who was commissioned by the English to chart new lands in the Americas on behalf of King Henry VII, was acquainted with the love-hate relationship the English had with wagering. 

At one stage, the bane of gambling got so out of hand that Richard III, a contemporary of Cabot, threatened any soldier who participated in games of luck with the punishment of death due to the eroding morale that staking had on the standing army. 

From Legalisation to Ban and Back to Deregulation

A breakthrough for English possessions in North America came in 1660 when Charles II lifted the ban on gambling for all his subjects. This meant that all English domains in the New World could legalise betting too.

With the confederation of Canadian provinces in 1867, the new federal government of the Dominion of Canada embarked on a plan to de-anglicise the Canadian legislative system. With the enactment of a new Criminal Code in 1892, gambling was once again classified as a criminal offence. 

However, by 1900, the authorities retracted some restrictions, allowing games of luck like raffles and bingo. In 1910, sports betting regulations were updated, and a further amendment to the law in the 1920s permitted raffles by bodies other than charity organisations. In 1969, the government gave the green light to lotteries, which eventually proved to be a brilliant decision since it offered a good source of financing for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.  

Finally, almost a century after the first outright ban on all forms of gambling in Canada, Canada’s first land-based casino opened its doors in Winnipeg in 1989. In 1994, Gaming Club Casino launched its services, thus becoming the first online casino in Canada. Today, Gaming Club Casino continues to attract Canadian punters with its broad spectrum of over 500 online slots, card games, table games, specialty games, and more.   

With the introduction of online gambling in Canada, provinces established their own regulated online wagering platforms to curtail the use of offshore providers. On 4 April 2022, Ontario became the first Canadian region to introduce regulated iGaming for private online gambling providers.

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