Ontario’s complicated history with gambling legislation – and the future in store

Since its rough and tumble days as a frontier colony, Canada has been trying to develop cohesive gambling legislation. Like their southern neighbor, having so many provinces with diverse cultures makes it impossible for one set of laws to make everyone happy.

Ontario is an eastern province, and it is the most populous province. Toronto and Ottawa, the country’s capital, are located in Ontario. It is therefore at the forefront of all new legislation. While most gambling laws have been reasonably stable, online gambling laws are still being settled.

This list of providers in Ontario gives you some idea of the current state of the industry in the province. It is a much better industry for players than it is for local operators since Canadian law allows online betting but doesn’t license online casinos.

Let’s take a look at the wider history of gambling legislation in Ontario and across Canada and see how it compares with some of the other provinces.


Gambling in Canada through the years

The first records of gambling in Canada are older than you might think. Before Canada was even Canada, early explorers discovered that First Nations populations had their own forms of gambling. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since games of chance seem to have existed for as long as humans have.

In the early colonial days, gambling was legal. The first official gambling event was a horse race in the 1760s in Quebec. The wild days of the gold rush led to lots of gambling in the frontier provinces, just like in Alaska and other American gold rush hot spots.

History is full of examples of governments trying to ban things they find immoral or dangerous only to have their citizens find ways to subvert the law or work around it. Alongside drugs, prostitution and alcohol, gambling is one of these so-called vice industries. Canada is no different.

In 1892, the Canadian Criminal Code was first enacted. It made all forms of gambling illegal. This, obviously, did not stop Canadians from gambling. It just meant that they had to be sneakier about it. The ban on gambling was such a failure that by 1910 they had already begun to dismantle it.

First bingos and charity raffles were legalized, horse racing followed soon after. Slowly but steadily more and more types of gambling were legalized and by the 1980s, land-based casinos were finally allowed to operate. The laws vary by province, so we’ll break that down next.


Land-based casinos in Ontario

The changes to the Criminal Code gave each province the power to set their own gambling laws. Most provinces settled on a system where land-based casinos are legal if they are owned by the provincial government. Others allow First Nations tribes to own and operate casinos.

In Ontario, land-based casinos can be either government-owned and operated or privately owned. There are more than 25 active casinos in the province, making it one of the easiest places to find a casino in the country.

Ontario also allows slot machines to be placed in locations other than just casinos. It is most common to see them at racetracks. The popularity of slot machines is very clear to see since they are so easy to find.


Online gambling

Online casinos fall under an unusual grey area in the law. There are no laws that prevent Canadian citizens from gambling at online casinos. It is perfectly legal, and many Canadians enjoy spending their time playing online.

Where things get a bit tricky is for the casinos themselves. It is illegal to operate an unlicensed online casino based in Canada. It might be legal to run a licensed one but since there is no framework for becoming licensed, this is an unusual sort of limbo.

Since there are no legal online casinos that are based and licensed in Canada, Canadian players have access to offshore casinos licensed through other countries. There is no legislation surrounding these casinos since they aren’t technically operating within the country.

Canadians do still need to be careful when selecting an offshore casino to play at. There is a vast difference between “not licensed” and “not licensed in Canada.” Unlicensed online casinos are at best not very reliable and at worst, outright scams.


What’s next?

Canada has seen a financial benefit from legalizing land-based casinos and other forms of gambling. Online casinos might seem like a scary new concept – but it seems highly likely that the provincial governments will soon realize just how much revenue there is to be made from them.

Allowing online casinos to be established and licensed in Canada seems like the next logical step. It shouldn’t be long before Canadians can gamble in online casinos owned and operated by Canadian companies.