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  • Writer's pictureRhonda Massad

Canadian iGaming laws in 2023 explained

Online casinos have caught on in a big way around the entire world. When the first online poker rooms were introduced, most people assumed they were just a passing fad and wouldn’t last. Instead, these poker rooms expanded into full online casinos that offer all the traditional table games alongside a massive selection of slot machine games and new gambling games for modern audiences.

Playing at the leading Canadian online casinos provides Canadian casino fans with a gambling experience that rivals that of any traditional land-based casino. This is great for those Canadians who don’t live close to an actual casino or don’t have the ability to regularly travel to one.

Gambling has traditionally been a leading hobby in many countries. At the same time, there have often been legal challenges that have made many or all forms of gambling illegal. The rise of iGaming has caused new issues to emerge as countries race to create new laws that address online forms of gambling.

Canada is one country that has been working hard to establish laws to regulate the iGaming industry. It is a process that is still in progress and is likely to include some developments over the next several years.

This article will explain the current state of Canadian iGaming laws as of 2023. It will also provide a brief overview of how Canada has regulated gambling in the past, as that can give us some insight into how these new laws are likely to develop as the industry stabilizes.

What is iGaming?

iGaming is a term that is used to describe all forms of online gambling. It is a quick and easy shorthand for an industry that is rapidly growing and includes multiple sectors. Online casinos, sports betting and eSports are the three primary sectors of the iGaming industry.

While some countries legislate all these sectors in the same way, most countries have separate laws to regulate each one individually. This is why you will occasionally see places where online casinos are legal but online sports betting is illegal for example.

History of gambling in Canada

Gambling has a long history in Canada. When the British and French settlers arrived in the 1600s, they brought their traditional games with them, but the First Nations populations had been playing their own games of chance long before that.

The legal status of gambling has fluctuated over the centuries since those early years and the current iGaming legislation is simply the latest step in this continuing evolution.

One of the oldest forms of legalized gambling in Canada is horse racing. Horses have always had an important place in Canadian culture. From work horses and police horses to race horses, Canadians have always had a love for these creatures. Though the first colonial officials tried to ban horse racing, by 1825 the first Thoroughbred club had been established and the earliest legal races were taking place. Since then, Canada has developed some of the world’s leading racetracks and even holds their own national Triple Crown.

Casino gambling has had a less stable history. Each of the provinces has banned or reinstated casinos at various points over the years. In 1970, the government chose to give the power to regulate gambling to each of the provinces. In 1989, the first modern casino was built in Winnipeg and many more soon followed. Currently, every province in the country has legalized casino gambling with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Yukon Territory. The Northwest Territories do not have any land-based casinos, but there is no legislation in place preventing one from being built.

Unsurprisingly, the population hot spots of British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario have the most and best land-based casinos. The success of these casino brands has contributed in part to the government’s willingness to look at iGaming in a positive light.

Movements towards iGaming legislation

The Canadian Gambling Commission oversees all gambling activities in Canada. The first important step on the path towards legalizing iGaming was the decision in 1970 to allow provinces to set their own gambling laws. This set the stage for a later date when provinces with a more positive attitude about gambling wouldn’t be held back by their more conservative neighbours.

The next step was the decision by the national government to legalize casinos and sports betting. This did not force any province to act, it simply opened the way for the future. Once the ban on casinos and sports betting was lifted in 1985, each province was able to move forward with their own gambling legislation. As mentioned above, nearly every single province took that step forward.

In the early 1990s when online casinos began to come into existence, the Canadian government once again took a fairly progressive approach. While not entirely comfortable with legalizing online gambling yet, the choice was made not to penalize players. It was made illegal to host or operate an online casino in the country, but it was not illegal to play at one. This allowed Canadian residents to enjoy offshore online casinos without the fear of legal repercussions at home.

While it was possible to ignore or overlook iGaming during the 1990s, by the 2010s that simply wasn’t possible anymore. It was too big an industry and too many Canadians were already enjoying playing at offshore online casinos or placing bets with offshore online sportsbooks. Further steps needed to be taken to make sure Canadian players had access to top quality iGaming options and were protected from scams and unscrupulous companies.

Current state of iGaming laws in Canada 2023

In 2021, the decision was made by the Canadian government to revise the Canadian Criminal Code laws on gambling to bring them fully into the modern era. This action legalized single sport betting and made it possible for provinces to legalize online casinos.

Ontario has often led the way in the country and considering it’s where the capital is located that’s no surprise. In 2022, Ontario became the first province to legalize online casinos and online sportsbooks. iGaming finally had a legal foothold in the country. The provincial regulatory body overseeing the industry is the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

After witnessing the initial success that Ontario experienced with the iGaming industry, other provinces began to act as well and put their own iGaming laws into place. The industry is still young, and each province has lots of room to grow. Those provinces still deciding how to proceed have good examples to follow. It will be intriguing to see how quickly they move towards allowing iGaming as well.

As of 2023, Ontario has been joined by several provinces in offering their residents and visitors legal iGaming options. Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec have legalized some form of iGaming.

While some provinces have offered licenses to private iGaming companies, others have chosen to only allow residents to play at province-run sites. PlayNow is the site for players in British Columbia and Manitoba, and PlayAlberta offers iGaming options to players in Alberta. This does limit selection for players; however, it also increases the protections that they have.

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