Gambling in Canada: The Law
Gambling activity comes under a mix of national and provincial laws. The national Criminal Code has sections covering sports betting and holds jurisdiction over online gambling. Live casinos, poker rooms, lotteries and charity gambling are controlled by individual provinces.
A key question for many Canadian gamblers is the legal status of offshore gambling sites. Offshore sites are not legal in Canada. Canada is in the midst of moving towards regulated online gambling, with the recent move to table a bill allowing single-event betting. Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford, proposed regulating online gambling as part of the 2020 budget.
As for current laws, it is illegal to operate an unlicensed gambling house anywhere in Canada. It is also illegal to knowingly enter an illegal gambling house.
Provincial Gambling Laws
Live casinos and poker rooms, bingo, lottery tickets and charitable gambling are all under the jurisdiction of the provinces. Provinces have departments overseeing gambling (often along with liquor) and have established Crown Corporations to operate casinos.
Some provinces license commercial casinos to private operators – using their Crown Corporations to oversee gambling activities. First Nation casinos are found throughout Canada. Many are run for the benefit of native community.
Brick and Mortar Casinos in Canada
Live casino venues in Canada range from the luxury resorts in Montreal, Niagara Falls and Vancouver – to small First Nations venues set in scenic surroundings. Many of the big resorts rival even the mega-casinos in Las Vegas in terms of size, gaming options and facilities.
Slots are the most popular games. There are 1000’s of titles in the bigger casinos. They include the latest games from global providers including IGT, Scientific Games and Aristocrat. You will find old-style mechanical slots, video slots and the latest titles co-branded with movie and music franchises in Canadian casinos. Progressive jackpots include prizes that are linked between casinos in some provinces. Examples include the Smoke Signals jackpot in Manitoba.
Table games in Canadian casinos include classics like blackjack, roulette, and baccarat. There is a Canadian variation of blackjack, though this is rare. The standard North American rules, where the dealer ‘peeks’ at their down card are used. Electronic versions of table games are common in smaller Canadian casinos. Bigger venues have casino poker variations such as 3-Card Poker. You will find jackpot side bets available. Keno, bingo, and video poker are also popular options.
Loyalty Reward Schemes
Several provinces have created casino loyalty rewards schemes that cover multiple casinos. Examples include the Encore Rewards scheme in BC and the Winner’s Edge scheme in Alberta. These programs sometimes run alongside independent programs – giving players two ways to earn rewards. As an incentive to new members, free play on slots is available via selected schemes.
Video Lottery Terminals
Known as VLTs, consoles offering slot and keno-style games are available in 8 provinces. They first appeared in New Brunswick in 1990 – becoming popular everywhere except Ontario and British Columbia over time.
VLTs offer multiple games in a single cabinet. The random number generator and percentage return for each game can’t be adjusted for individual consoles. Slots include versions of classics by IGT and others. Saskatchewan also includes provincial jackpot games in their VLTs.
Canada’s Online Gambling Sites
Several provinces have developed their own online gambling portals. They offer slots, casino table games (including live dealer options), video poker, bingo/keno options and player vs player poker. Sports betting (Sport Select, Pro-Line and others) are also accessed via portals.
- Québec: EspaceJeux was launched in 2010. It provides slots, table games and poker options. You will find casino games from Scientific Games, IGT and Williams Interactive (and others). This site can be accessed on desktops or via your mobile phone.
- Ontario: Ontario provides both an online casino and lottery site. The online casino includes a number of the games you would normally find at Casino Rama and Casino Niagara. Ontario recently announced that they would move to license online gambling, which could make room for brands like MGM, Caesars and Hard Rock to enter the space. Sports betting is available through ProLine.
- Atlantic Lottery Corporation: The online portal shared by the Atlantic provinces includes online lottery games, casino games, slots, sports betting, and bingo options. There is no poker room. You can access this from NB, NS, PE, and NL.
- British Columbia and Manitoba: You can access PlayNow.ca from BC and MB. This online gambling portal was developed by the BC lottery corporation and launched in 2004. There is a wide selection of casino games, slots, and poker games. You can also access sports betting and lottery games through this portal.
- Alberta: A new addition is the PlayAlberta.ca gambling portal. This opened on the 1st of October 2020. This portal includes casino games and slots. Instant lottery games can be played online. For ticket purchases, you will be sent to the WCLC.ca lottery site – which in turn links to sports betting options.
Pros and Cons of Playing at the Provincial Gambling Sites
Advantages of playing at the official provincial gambling portals include safety and security. While many offshore brands have a great reputation, you have no legal recourse if you have a dispute with them. The official portals are run by provincial governments. You can be sure that the games are fair and that your deposits are safe. The other big advantage is that money raised stays in your region – often to help education, the environment and community causes.
Sports Betting in Canada
You can’t place bets on single matches in Canada, but this could change in the near future. Currently, you have the 2-match+ setup, with multiple ways to bet.
Sports betting in Canada is handled via VLTs and online portals in multiple provinces. There are different names for these services, though the format is broadly the same across them. Names include Sport Select, and Pro-Line.
You can bet on wins (for the home team or visiting team), totals, spreads, or player props. Bets are limited to major sports. NHL, NFL, MLB, and soccer are all popular markets. Parlays need a minimum of two outcomes, with a maximum of eight on some services. Player and in-match props are sport-specific.
Alternative ways to bet include picks contests. These resemble the popular Daily Fantasy Sports – where you compete with other players for prizes. There are also stadium and futures betting options.
Poker Games in Canada
Canada has a thriving live poker scene. There are dedicated rooms in major casinos, plus options on First Nations territory.
Here are the biggest poker rooms in Canada:
- Playground Poker Club: Located on the Kahnawake First Nations territory south of Montreal, this is a huge poker room. There are 72 tables open 24/7.
- Casino de Montréal: The biggest and most luxurious casino in Canada also has a big poker room. This Québec venue has 26 dedicated tables.
- Casino Niagara: This Ontario casino is located a popular tourist spot at Niagara Falls. There is a big poker room, with 26 dedicated tables.
- Caesars Windsor: This Ontario poker room is located just across the international border bridge from Detroit, MI. There are 14 dedicated poker tables in this bust venue.
Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker format in Canada. You will also find Pot-Limit Omaha, Omaha Hi-Lo and mixed poker game options. Tournaments include regular small buy-in games, with occasional bigger events attracting professional players.
Alternative options for live poker include home games (legal in every province, if nobody is making a profit from hosting the game), and charity poker tournaments. For the fund-raising events, licenses and terms are controlled at the province level.
Online poker in Canada is available on the BC and QC gambling portals. The more popular option for players that take poker seriously is to head to the bigger offshore poker sites.
Canadian Lottery Games
The Canadian lottery started in 1974. This is available in every province. There is a mix of national games and local/regional games. Lotteries are regulated by the provinces, with several of them joining into groups to run their games. Groups include the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, Western Canada Lottery Corporation, and the BC Lottery site – which is shared with Manitoba.
Big prize draws include Lotto Max, Lotto 6/49, and the Daily Grand. These operate throughout Canada – and can be won from any province. There are multiple regional/single province games with prizes of more than $1 million. The largest lottery prize won in Canada is was $64 million. This was won via a ticket bought in Mississauga, ON, in 2015.
You can buy lottery tickets online in most provinces. This includes multi-draw subscriptions. Second chance draws are available for losing retail tickets. Online lotteries include ‘iBingo’, instant games (which resemble scratch cards) and keno-style games.
Betting on Horses in Canada
There are racetracks in almost every province. They host a mix of thoroughbred, standardbred and harness racing during the summer months. Betting at racetracks and ‘racetrack casinos’ uses the parimutuel format.
You can bet on races from around Canada, the USA and selected international races via ‘teletheatre’ setups. This simulcast betting is available at racetracks and OTB offices.
Charity Gambling in Canada
Charity gambling requires licenses from provincial governments. Overall, the laws share the requirement for applicants to be a licensed charity or religious organization. Charity gambling events can be casino nights (sometimes called Monte Carlo events), bingo, break out games, raffles, lotteries, or poker tournaments. All the money raised needs to go to a good cause.
Several First Nations casinos are run for the benefit of the community. In addition to providing jobs, money raised supports local projects.
Gambling in Canada: Province by Province
There are major differences in your gambling options depending on which province you live in. Smaller provinces including PE and only have one or two small casinos. Compared with the giant luxury resorts of ON and QC, the choices are small.
Below you will find a summary of the gambling options in each province. Check out the detailed guide for each one to get a full overview of your options:
- British Columbia: You will find 36 casinos in BC. They range from big resorts in Vancouver and Victoria to small First Nations venues. There are five horse racing tracks and a long list of poker rooms. Online options include PlayNow, which is run by the BC lottery corporation. This portal offers online lottery games, poker, slots, casino table games and sports betting.
- Alberta: This province recently added an online gambling portal to their thriving list of live gambling options. There are 28 brick-and-mortar casinos, plus a lot of bingo halls. You can bet on horses at six different tracks and at OTB offices. Poker rooms, charity gambling options and lottery games complete your options.
- Saskatchewan: First Nations casinos are popular in SK. They are run by SIGA, which combines the latest games with a focus on fundraising for local communities. SK has unique ‘must-win by’ slot jackpots, including the $2 million ‘Smoke Signals’ prize. There are 10 live casinos to visit, with small poker rooms in many of them. You can bet on horses at the racetrack at Marquis Downs.
- Manitoba: There are commercial casinos in Winnipeg, plus First Nations casinos around MB. The biggest venue is the Club Regent Casino, with has more than 900 slots. Poker games and horse racing betting can also be enjoyed. Manitoba residents can access the online gambling portal PlayNow.ca – which is shared with British Columbia.
- Ontario: There are more venues, games, and ways to gamble live in Ontario than in any other province. You can choose from 25 casinos. They include the big luxury resorts in Toronto, Niagara Falls and Windsor. Horse racing tracks and OTB offices allow plenty of chances to bet via parimutuel pools. Add to this poker rooms, a thriving lottery, and an online gambling portal.
- Québec: Montreal plays host to the world’s most luxurious casino venues. Casino de Montreal has a unique building, which was created for an expo in 1990. There is a big poker scene. This extends from the commercial casinos to dedicated rooms on the Kahnawake reservation. Horse racing, bingo halls, charity gambling and an online gambling portal complete the list of options.
- New Brunswick: Only one big live casino can be found in NB. This is Casino New Brunswick in Moncton. It has more than 600 slots, 18 table games and a poker room. Alongside smaller First Nations venues, you will find a harness racing track. New Brunswick is part of the Atlantic Lottery Corporation. This runs an online gambling portal offering lotto tickets and instant games, slots, and table games.
- Nova Scotia: The gambling action is focused on two commercial casinos. There is a ‘Casino Nova Scotia’ in both Halifax and Sydney. Bingo halls also have some slot / VLT action. Aside from charity gambling, the main alternative is to use the ALC.ca online gambling portal. You can access the Atlantic Lottery, casino games and slots from either a desktop or a mobile device.
- Prince Edward Island: PE combine horse racing and casino facilities for their two gambling venues. The biggest is the Red Shores Racetrack at Charlottetown. There is a smaller selection of slots at the Summerside venue. Both racetracks have a poker room. Prince Edward Island is also a member of the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, allowing residents a legal and regulated online gambling option.
- Northwest Territories: There are no casinos or gambling options in Dehcho, North Slave, Sahtu, South Slave and Inuvik.