Canada’s Long Gambling Tradition

There’s value in understanding how gaming in Canada has evolved throughout time. Whatever your thoughts on gambling’s effects on individuals and communities may be, you can’t deny the multi-billion dollar industry it has spawned or its central role in the development and spread of many cultures across the globe.

This is why the subject of this piece is this very thing. During this brief but in-depth exploration of the Canadian gambling industry’s past, we will look at the numerous interesting nuances that have shaped it and the pivotal moments that led to its current state.


Canadian Gambling Traditions Stretch Back to the Beginning of Time

In keeping with our opening remark, we can really trace the origins of legal gambling in Canada back to the country’s inception.


Gambling existed in the cultures of North America’s hundreds or thousands of indigenous peoples even before European explorers set foot on its shores. One of the earliest and most rudimentary kinds of gambling in human history was performed by these groups (today known as the First Nations).


These first games varied significantly between regions, such as between the tribes in what is now Canada and those further south, but they are commonly referred to as “stick games” or “bone games,” which are basic guessing games that wagered meat, supplies, or equipment. (An interesting aside: these First Nations groups still use these games today.)

When European explorers arrived in the New World, they brought with them the popular gambling games of the Old World. In particular, dice and card games (Hazard and Cribbage are only two examples) laid the groundwork for the present, thriving Canadian gambling market.



Canadian law enforcement and the “Dark Age” of gambling.

After the first significant Western landing by explorer John Cabot at the start of the 16th century, gambling games flourished across the colonies we founded in Canada. When the colonies united in July 1867 to form the nation of Canada, however, things would change.


Most notably, in 1892, Canada’s Criminal Code was enacted, explicitly prohibiting gambling in the country except for pari-mutuel betting on horse races and a few other narrowly defined exclusions. The “Offenses against religion, morals, and public convenience” portion of this first form of the Code mostly matched comparable rules adopted previously in nations back in Europe.

Gamblers were understandably displeased by the countrywide prohibition, which pushed them onto more dubious venues to satisfy their gambling needs. As you can expect, this would open the floodgates to a surge in illegal gaming and the accompanying criminal activity. These rigorous regulations were ultimately relaxed by the Canadian government; for example, in the early 1900s, an amendment was approved permitting bingo and lotteries to be organized for charity and/or religious causes.



Loss of Control: Loosened Gambling Laws in the Twenty-First Century

Canada’s prohibitions against gambling date back to the formation of the Criminal Code in 1892 and have seldom changed since then.


But things would shift drastically once 1969 revisions to the Criminal Code took effect. The key change was granting provincial governments the authority to conduct lotteries within their borders and to draft and enact their own laws to license and regulate gambling in accordance with their own values and priorities.


The floodgates were opened when Canada’s provincial governments were granted more power, and since then, several more casinos have opened around the country. Loto-Québec, a provincial crown company established by the Quebec government to manage the gambling business and create what would become Canada’s first large chain of land-based casinos, was arguably the most important gaming endeavor to result from this new law.


Although these changes were progressive in that they brought the great majority of gambling within the sphere of legal recognition, they did not have as much of an influence on the expansion of the business as the next event.


Online gambling is exploding like a wildfire.

As the twentieth century ended, a new age dawned over the globe. Home use of computers and other forms of digital technology were on the rise. In addition, Internet speeds would increase to the point that everyone with the wherewithal could utilize it, and a whole new universe of boundless opportunities would soon be accessible via the World Wide Web.


At about the same time, a few of enterprising programmers and pioneering web designers introduced the world to the first online gambling games and platforms. Some of the pioneers of the online gambling business, such as Microgaming casino, International Game Technologies, and NetEnt casino, have seen considerable success since the sector’s infancy.


The legal status of internet gambling is quite ambiguous, and this must be taken into account. We’ve already shown that the internet didn’t exist when the last significant revision to Canadian gambling law was made in 1969. Since no legislation specifically made internet gambling illegal, most forms of it were accepted on the assumption that they were.


Canada’s gambling laws have been in a precarious position throughout the better part of the modern period.

The State of Gambling in Canada Today and Tomorrow


However, as suggested by this conclusion’s heading, Canada’s gambling regulations are in a constant state of flux. One of the most recent changes to gambling laws was a countrywide deregulation of sports betting, which legalized single-event betting in addition to the long-standing pari-mutuel system.


Canadian provinces are beginning to see the benefits of legalizing internet gambling. Most notably, in 2022, casinos and bookies will be allowed to get licenses to operate in the province of Ontario, allowing for the introduction of regulated internet gambling.


Despite the fact that gambling in Canada has a rich and interesting history, we can only look forward to more of the same as the industry expands and develops.

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