Online Gambling Law in Canada
Online gambling laws in Canada are vague and open to interpretation. Even so, we have managed to organize a good amount of information that you should find useful. Canadian gaming laws are similar to the US in some respects. The business of gambling is mostly outlawed, but individual gamblers can play online if they wish.
If you're just an average person interested in placing bets online, you have little to fear. Nothing in the criminal code specifically addresses the patrons of online gambling sites. There are some old laws on the books that, with a creative interpretation, could be applied to the act of gambling online, but nobody has ever been charged with or harassed for patronizing a gambling site.
So if you came here wanting to know if it's legal to gamble online in Canada, there's your answer. The chances of you getting in trouble for placing a few bets over the internet are practically nil. It hasn't happened to anyone else in the history of Canada, and we seriously doubt it will happen any time in the future without a drastic change in how Canadian law is interpreted and applied.
The Business of Gambling
It's illegal to operate an online gambling business from within Canada. This is clearly against the law and could get you in trouble if you one day woke up and decided to start your own casino. However, there are no laws that address offshore gaming sites.
That last line denotes one of the big differences between Canadian and American gambling law. US law specifically criminalizes offshore operations. Many of the people who run big international sites avoid the US market in an effort to maintain legitimacy, keep the doors open for future legalization, and have a chance to visit the US without being arrested.
Things work much differently in Canada. Offshore sites aren't targeted by any Canadian laws so most of the large, international sites are happy to take Canadian gamblers. This is why you see big sites like Bet365 do a lot of business in Canada while avoiding the US market completely.
Kahnawake Gaming Commission
The Kahnawake Mohawk Territory is a native reservation that plays an interesting role in the online gambling industry. Even though the land is located inside Canada, the territory acts as a major licensing jurisdiction for online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker rooms. They also host a data center that houses and manages the servers of numerous gambling sites.
The people of the Kahnawake recognized the opportunity in online gambling early on and founded the Kahnawake Gambling Commission in 1999. The tribe decided not to get into the actual business of online gambling, but instead to regulate and license any gaming sites hosted in the Kahnawake data center.
Kahnawake today manages more than 70 licensees. Most of the sites licensed with Kahnawake are smaller organizations, but there are a couple of bigger ones in there such as Bodog. Our opinion based on what we've been able to dig up is that a license from Kahnawake is pretty good, but it's not quite as rock-solid a guarantee of quality as a license from the UK's gambling commission.
Several Canadian politicians have questioned the legality of the Kahnawake business, but nobody has ever seriously challenged the commission. It seems to be one of those things that the government just doesn't feel like dealing with: especially knowing past encounters with native tribes have reflected poorly on the Canadian government.
Government Run Sites
Some provinces do have legal government-owned sports betting sites open to citizens. The Sport Select group (also known as Proline and Sports Action depending on the province) is owned and operated by the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation.
Provincial governments have been dying to get in on the action offered by online gambling. It's a politically-expedient way to raise money for governments that have insatiable spending appetites. Instead of raising taxes, politicians can just open a couple of online casinos. Plus, the logic follows that if Canadians are going to be sending their money to offshore sites anyways, the government might as well offer something local and get a piece of the action.
The funny thing is Sport Select sites are extremely restrictive and poorly-run. For one, only sports betting is offered. Second, the juice is incredibly high. It's so high, in fact, that it's basically impossible to win any money over the long run. Bet there and you'll be looking at lines as high as -140 for even money matchups.
And to top it all off, you cannot bet on single games. Every single bet placed with the Sport Select group has to be a parlay including at least 2 different matchups. It's a sick joke, really. If Canada really wants in on the action, they're going to have to do much better than that. These sites don't even compare to what sites like Bodog and Bet365 have to offer. There's no comparison.
The British Columbia Lottery Corporation more recently opened PlayNow.com, but we don't have any experience with the site to say much about it. It certainly looks better than what the Sport Select group offers. PlayNow.com appears to have casino games, poker, bingo, and access to the lottery. We did look into the sportsbook and saw that single bets still aren't offered.
It's our opinion that you'll be better served at Bet365 than any of the official government-run sites in Canada. And remember, Bet365 is actually licensed by the UK Gambling Commission. It's as legit as anything offered by the Canadian government.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015