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The Great Canadian Roll of the Dice: A Historical Look at Evolving Gambling Laws

The Great Canadian Roll of the Dice: A Historical Look at Evolving Gambling Laws

Published by Leonardo Calcagno

From bingo nights in the church basement to the high-stakes glamour of casino floors, gambling has held a captivating presence in Canadian society. However, the legal landscape surrounding this activity has undergone a fascinating transformation, reflecting changing social attitudes and technological advancements. This blog will trace the historical transformation of gambling laws in Canada, look at the complex dance between federal and provincial regulations, examine the forms of gambling currently allowed, and examine how trends in society and technology affect future legislation.

Online gaming has introduced new dimensions to the gambling landscape in recent years. Beyond traditional casino games, many Canadians are exploring ways to earn money through online gaming, blurring the lines between entertainment and income generation. This trend is prompting lawmakers to consider how these new forms of online engagement fit within existing gambling regulations and whether new frameworks are needed to address this evolving digital playground.

A History Etched in Red and Black: A Timeline of Gambling Laws

Canada’s gambling story stretches back to its colonial roots. Inherited British laws, therefore, considered most forms of gambling as illegal, with exceptions made for low-stakes raffles and charitable events. The 1960s, a decade seen as a significant turning point in the social attitude towards gambling issues, was when provinces began lobbying for increased autonomy in gambling regulations.

  • 1970: A landmark amendment to the Criminal Code allowed the provinces to regulate and license most forms of gambling except nationally scoped lotteries, opening the door to a new era of provincial control.
  • 1985: Sports betting was legalized, but a single-event wagering ban was imposed several years later over concerns about match-fixing (source: Canadian Gaming Association, [])
  • 1989: Commercial casino, Winnipeg, Manitoba: The first commercial casino opens in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This will be significant in expanding large-scale, legal gambling venues.
  • 2004: Criminal Code amendments authorize single-event sports betting, one further step in broadening the options for legal gambling.
  • Today: Each province has developed its own rules and laws to regulate gambling activities; most allow casinos, lotteries, and various online gaming products (source: The Canadian Encyclopedia, []).

The Balancing Act: Federal vs. Provincial Regulations

The division of powers between federal and provincial governments is the defining background to gambling law in Canada. The Criminal Code is the foundational policy for gaming regulation throughout the nation, and the Provinces are assigned the power to license, regulate, and collect taxes from certain gaming businesses. This complex interplay strikes some level of national consistency but allows provinces to tailor regulations to their unique needs and social contexts. For example, a platform like RoosterBet Casino must navigate this multi-layered regulatory environment, ensuring compliance with federal laws and each province’s specific regulations. This can lead to variations in game offerings, promotional activities, and operational practices across different regions of Canada. The system’s complexity highlights the importance for Canadian players to understand their local laws and for operators to maintain strict adherence to both federal and provincial regulations, fostering a safe and legally compliant gambling environment.

A Spectrum of Options: Legal Gambling in Canada Today

The Canadian gambling landscape offers several different and distinct legal options for those looking for a chance to win. Here’s a look at the most popular types:

  • Casinos: Land-based casinos have become large revenue generators for many provinces as they provide patrons with baccarat, blackjack, craps, poker, roulette, and slot machines. The venues also host many restaurants and bars, as well as theaters that feature live performances and shows. Strict controls are in place in relation to game fairness, protections of minors, and responsible gambling.
  • Lotteries: Tickets can be bought for national or regional lotteries, and even online lotteries continue to attract people. Often, a large portion of these proceeds benefit social programs and other government functions.
  • Sports Betting: Interest in sports betting has again skyrocketed following the lifting of a single-event wagering ban. Canadians have full legal authority to place various forms of bets on multiple sports through provincially regulated channels.
  • Horse Racing: Parimutuel horse racing betting has been allowed in Canada since the start of the 20th century and provides one of the most unique forms of betting entertainment.

The Double-Edged Sword: Social and Technological Change

There has been a significant shift in social attitudes towards gambling. While the concerns about addiction and problem gambling remain, legalized gambling is increasingly being accepted as a source of entertainment and revenue. Improvements in technology have also driven these changes. The emergence of online gambling platforms requires newer, stricter regulations to ensure consumer protection and responsible gambling practices.

Case Study: The Looming Shadow of Illegal Gambling

Despite the growing legal gambling environment, illegal gambling still persists. For example, in a recent report, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSUA) indicates that 3.2 million Canadians— or 8.4% of the population— gamble illegally in the past year. source: Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, from [[invalid URL removed]]. This highlights the need to continue increasing efforts toward eliminating illegal gambling and enforcing responsible gambling in legal avenues.

Looking into the Future: The Unfolding Future of Gambling Laws

The future of gambling laws in Canada will likely see ongoing discussions about online gambling policies, responsible gaming programs, and potentially new sources of revenue. In addition, policymakers will still need to balance the two—that is, tax revenue requirements and the need to protect vulnerable persons in society.


The gambling laws in Canada are far from what they previously were and have undergone many drastic changes due to changing social attitudes and technological changes. The new regime encompasses a wide variety of gambling activities but also acknowledges the need to promote responsible gambling and eliminate any illegal operations. That said, a most critical consideration that now confronts Canada, as it deals with a constantly changing gambling landscape, is to ensure an appropriate and sustainable balance by informed decision-making, strong regulation, and public health awareness.

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