Online gambling in Canada — what’s the law?

Gambling has been a popular pastime for centuries. In Canada, the birth of the Criminal Code in 1892 effectively outlawed most gambling. Horse race betting was pretty much the only exception. An amendment in 1910 allowed pari-mutuel betting. But people wanted more gambling opportunities. It fell to criminal elements to keep the industry alive. Things remained unchanged until 1970 when specific forms of gambling became legal. This change gathered momentum. Since 1985 the provinces and territories could oversee specific gambling activities. These included lotteries, charitable gaming and physical slot machines.

But what of online gambling? As the internet developed, so canny operators took their products online. Today, there are thousands of online casinos that attract players from all around the world. And Canada and Canadians are no exception. Online you can play slots, table games and more. But is it legal to gamble online in Canada?

Criminal Code of Canada

Despite the changes in the Canadian Criminal Code, online gambling still falls into something of a grey area. Generally speaking, any legal form of gambling in Canada must be either managed or licensed by the government. This can be either the federal or the provincial government. However, there is nothing in the Criminal Code that says Canadians cannot gamble online. Nevertheless, for that gambling to be legal the online casino should be government-licensed or owned.

Kahnawake Gaming Committee

Established in 1996, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission is one of the oldest casino regulatory bodies still operating. It was originally formed to license and regulate land-based gambling in the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake. However, Kahnawake was also one of the first gambling jurisdictions to recognize the opportunities of online or interactive gaming. So in 1999, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission enacted a landmark piece of legislation.

Regulations Concerning Interactive Gaming

This piece of legislation was the Regulations Concerning Interactive Gaming. As a result, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission could now also license various forms of online gaming. This included casinos, sportsbooks and online poker sites. In 2010 there was a further amendment to the regulations. This stipulated that all online gaming entities licensed by Kahnawake had to have their data servers located within the territory.


The Commission issues Client Provider Authorizations or CPA’s to online gaming operators. Each of these clients must also purchase a Key Person License. So far, Kahnawake has issued over 50 CPA’s to gaming operators. In turn, this represents at least 250 online gambling sites. All of these are both safe and legal for Canadian players to use.

Online offshore-based casinos

Strictly speaking, betting at an online casino that doesn’t have a license from the Canadian government is illegal. However, each year, Canadians spend millions of dollars gambling online. The vast majority of this is spent at casinos that are based offshore. Many of these casinos have licenses from top regulatory jurisdictions. These include the Malta Gaming Authority. Nevertheless, according to the letter of the law, it is illegal for Canadians to bet there.

What about online sports betting?

In Canada, the Criminal Code also governs sports betting. It is currently illegal to bet on a single sports game or match. Horse racing is the only exception. There are no sports betting shops in Canada. Bizarrely, however, parlay-style bets are legal. These most often come in a similar form to a totalizer bet. Here you are betting on more than one sporting event. The payout, should you be successful, can be great. However, all parts of your bet must come through for you to win.

This may all soon change though. The Canadian government is looking at legalizing single sports betting. There is a bill currently under consideration. Many people already go online to place their bets. Legalizing single sports betting would remove any threat of prosecution. This would bring a whole new income stream into the country.

Final Thoughts

The advent of the internet took gambling online. Players can now access online casino games and sports-betting with ease. Although Canada has some fairly liberal gaming laws, they are also confusing. This is especially true when it comes to online gaming. The safest bet is to stick to casinos online that are registered with Kahnawake. The same is true for sports betting. Always use a licensed casino. That way you can be sure of getting any winnings.

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