Are Online Casinos Legal in Canada?

The most important thing first – gambling online in Canada is completely legal. Slots, video poker, table games and scratch cards can all be enjoyed with impunity. No Canadians gambling online and not running a betting parlour have ever had a computer seized or been carted off in handcuffs and, as laws are currently written, none will be anytime soon.

Those laws are contained in the Canadian Criminal Code. Back in 1892, in a burst of indignation over sin and vice, Parliament banned all forms of gambling nationwide. Only horse racing wiggled out of the prohibition which kept enough bets passing amongst Canadians to enable gambling advocates to gradually gnaw away at the Criminal Code with exemptions through the decades. Finally in 1969, with a particular need to pay for the upcoming Olympic Games in Montreal, an amendment passed allowing federal and provincial lotteries. In 1985 the Criminal Code was amended once again essentially legalizing gambling as each individual province saw fit. Today ticket lotteries, horse racing and charitable gaming are legal in all provinces and territories and casino gambling can be found everywhere except in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland & Labrador.

Of course there was no such beast as an online casino in 1985. There are no national or provincial statutes specifically allowing online gambling in Canada but there are none that prohibit international casinos from usurping provincial authority either. In 1996 the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake waded into this regulatory netherworld and began licensing online casinos, online poker rooms and online sportsbooks. The right of the First Nations people to do so has never been challenged and their roster of gaming operators has swollen to over 50 with more than 250 online gaming sites. Rather than battle the entrenched online casinos with prohibitions the largest provinces have set up their own competing casinos: Play OLG in Ontario, Espace Jeux in Quebec and PlayNow in British Columbia. Therein lies the murky legal environment faced by the Canadian online gamer but so far the virtual tables are open for gamblers to play but not operate.

So the decision currently facing Canadian gamers is – where to play? With a Canadian provincial government? The Kahnawake Mohawk Nation? One of the thousands of online casinos with a postal address in Gibraltar or Malta or Antigua or some other regulatory paradise?

The deciding factors winnow down to money and gaming experience. Banking security is of paramount concern. Players need to know they can not only fund and withdraw money from accounts quickly and easily but that the bankroll is safe during play. There are no guarantees, even with the government-run casinos. British Columbia’s PlayNow suffered a security breach in 2010 that affected over 100 accounts. And just because a provincial operation is regulated it does not mean foreign casinos are not – there are international gaming commissions to protect players as well. The best gamers can do is perform satisfactory research on the reputations of casinos and maintain as diligent watch over online accounts as possible. 

The other side of money is winning it. Payouts from various casinos and favourite games varies widely. Typically the return to players is greater at international casinos than provincial-run operations. Also, since the progressive jackpots are fed only by provincial residents in Canadian casinos so the jackpots are much larger at popular foreign-based houses. Government casinos also don’t bother much with bonuses for game play so that Royal Flush pulled with Play OLG won’t come with a fat cash reward as it often does with an international operation.

The international casinos found online are competing for business ruthlessly every day. Their weapon of choice is VIP programs with sign-up perks, cash give-aways, monthly special offers and other goodies. The provincial houses know their clientele are mostly interested in the comfortable familiarity of the home-site. There is no need to offer those folks any extra incentive to come on board so do not expect blow-you-away promotions from Canadian operators.

Money matters being roughly equal, the next way casinos differentiate themselves is with game selection. Players will find all the basic games of a chance with a provincial online operation and the fifty or so on offer can be perfectly satisfactory. But, again, Canadian casinos are not pushed by competitors to add innovative suites of games. Big-name international casinos feature multiple software developers and hundreds of games for adventurous players to sample.

So to sum up, Canadians everywhere can gamble online. Just do not try and run your own games online. Gambling options are dictated by the individual provinces and Canadians living in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia can patronize government-run online casinos in their own backyards. These operations do not face the competition encountered by private casinos so they are not as player-friendly.