Online Gambling Law in Canada

Online gambling in Canada is largely unregulated at the federal or provincial level—at least as it concerns the legality of players betting online. There are laws governing certain types of gambling but without any explicit prohibition there’s no legal framework that outlaws online casino or sports betting anywhere in the country. For most of its history, Canada had very strict gambling laws and allowed only limited forms of wagering. That changed in the early 1970’s with the revision of the country’s Criminal Code and again in 1985 with new legislation that gave the provinces greater power of self-government. The most significant result of these updated laws was the delegation to the individual provinces of the right to regulate many forms of gambling.

Federal Gambling Law in Canada

The Federal government is largely out of the gambling regulatory business. The major stipulation in Canadian gambling law focuses on the operators. Only the Federal and provincial governments are allowed to operate any kind of gambling business including lotteries, land based casinos and online betting. There is also language within the law that suggests that provinces can choose to offer many of their gambling options online—the specific terminology is “operated on or through a computer”. There is disagreement among legal scholars on what this does or doesn’t allow provinces to offer but the reality is that online gambling is already available at the provincial level.

There is an effort underway to clarify the legal status of online gambling in Canada as well as to expand the availability of provincially sanctioned sports betting. While the population has made clear that they want expanded gambling freedom nothing has been codified to this point.

Kahnawake Mohawk Nation

The one major exception to Federal gambling regulation in Canada is the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation. The Kahnawake Mohawk Nation is an Indian reserve located in Quebec not far from Montreal—one of several territories across Canada that are part of the Mohawk Nation. The Kahnawake Mohawk Nation was one of the first North American jurisdictions to offer online gambling. In 1996, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission was established to regulate online gambling businesses and now licenses several dozen sites. In addition, they regulate a limited number of land based operators—primarily poker rooms.

There has been a good deal of debate over the legality of the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation’s gambling endeavors within Canadian borders. Ultimately, the fact that they are viewed as a sovereign nation under Canadian law has been the bigger issue. There has never been any significant external attempt to address the state of gambling in the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation.

Provincial Gambling Law in Canada

With few exceptions, every province in Canada offers similar forms of gambling to its citizens. The Canadian Lottery is legal in all ten provinces and includes a sports betting component. The sports betting is limited to parlay card type wagers, however, with players required to bet on three or more games. Video lottery are also legal, though the licensing of locations where VLT’s are offered vary. Gambling for charity (eg: church bingo) is legal at the provincial level throughout Canada as is horse racing.

Land based casinos are legal in every province except New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland/Labrador. A full range of ‘Las Vegas style’ slot machines, video poker and table games are offered. Online gambling is legal when offered by a provincially regulated and run website. British Columbia operates the largest online gambling presence and residents of several other provinces are allowed to play there. The exception to all of this is the Kahnawake Gaming Commission discussed above.