Gambling Law – Canada vs USA

Canada is one of eleven nations ahead of the United States in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom and nowhere is this more evident than in the gambling freedom of each country’s citizens.  While the United States continues to languish below the top ten (#12), Canadian citizens enjoy one of the freest economics in the world.  This affords Canadian citizens the luxury of choice—virtually every major online betting site in the world will accept them as clients.  US citizens are woefully limited in their choices and even once they find a good place to bet the hassles have only just begun.

History of Gambling Law in the United States

Until the late 20th century, gambling law in the United States developed on a path similar to Canada’s.  Gambling was for the most part illegal with few exceptions. One exception was pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, dog racing and jai-alai which began in the United States in the late 1920’s.  State lotteries began in the mid 1960’s (though the US territory of Puerto Rico has a lottery that dates back to the 1930’s) and exploded in popularity during the 1980’s.  Poker has always been ubiquitous in US culture and legal ‘card rooms’ began to pop up outside of Nevada in the 1980’s.   In many states, gambling for charity—particularly ‘church bingo’—has always been acceptable and legal.

Casino gambling was available only in Nevada until the past few decades.  Nevada began to legalize many forms of gambling not long after attaining statehood in the late 1860’s.  The ‘Silver State’ would have the market on casino gambling until 1977 when legal casinos first opened in Atlantic City.  Today, 20 states allow casino gambling though the specific games offered vary from state to state.  Nevada, however, is still the only state that allows single game sports betting.

Online Gambling in the United States

As online gambling began to explode in popularity, Canada allowed the industry to continue in something of a ‘gray area’.  The United States did the exact opposite.  Fueled and funded by the land based casino industry and the religious right, US politicians have done everything possible to deny Americans the freedom to bet online.  In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was snuck onto a completely unrelated piece of legislation by Senator Bill Frist at the bidding of religious fundamentalists with additional support from big casino companies.  This law went after Americans’ ability to transfer funds to and from online betting operations through the banking system and in due course most shut off access US based players.

That didn’t stop Americans from betting online though it did significantly limit their choices of where to play.  A small but growing number of online betting sites continue to serve American players but the huge hassle of transferring money remains.  Some betting operations have turned to Bitcoin as a funding option but it’s still a very small niche.

Things Are Better in Canada

Canadian citizens don’t have to deal with these hassles.  The majority of the approximately 1,400 online betting sites worldwide accept Canadian players.  Money transfers are also easy to facilitate though some individual banks and credit card companies have policies against gambling related transactions.  There is no legal prohibition at the federal or provincial level against online betting or transferring money to gambling related businesses.