The realm of iGaming in Canada is a fascinating tapestry of legal developments, cultural shifts, and technological advancements. While many nations grapple with the challenges and opportunities presented by online gambling, Canada’s unique federal-provincial dynamic offers a distinct perspective. From early prohibitions rooted in the Criminal Code to the contemporary nuances of digital betting platforms, the journey of iGaming in Canada serves as a case study in adaptive regulation and market evolution. 

This article delves into the milestones and legislative pivots that have shaped the Canadian iGaming landscape, charting its course from stringent laws to a more open yet closely regulated digital gaming arena.

A Historical Overview of Gambling Laws in Canada

Up until the early 1970s, most forms of gambling were outlawed in Canada. The Criminal Code of Canada, initially drafted in 1892, prohibited all gambling activities. However, as social attitudes evolved, there was a gradual easing of restrictions. The first significant change came in 1969 when the federal government amended the Code to allow provinces to operate their own lotteries. That was mainly to fund special projects, such as the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

By the 1980s, the shift towards liberalizing gambling continued. Casinos began emerging, with the first one, Casino de Montréal, opening its doors in 1993. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, provinces across Canada started establishing their own gaming authorities and introducing more forms of legal gambling. Horse racing, video lottery terminals, and charitable gaming events like bingo also became more prevalent. 

The turn of the millennium witnessed a surge in First Nations-run casinos, bolstering indigenous self-sufficiency and economic development. As technology progressed, so did the laws around online gambling, recognizing the growing demand and the need for robust regulations to ensure fair and safe play for all Canadians.

Provincial Autonomy and iGaming

With the 1985 amendment to the Criminal Code, control over gambling was largely handed over to the provinces. That meant each province could decide how to regulate and operate gambling within its borders. Some provinces quickly launched their own online gambling websites, such as British Columbia’s PlayNow and Quebec’s Espacejeux. 

But, as you can imagine in the early days, computer technology was very much in its infancy compared to what it is now, and issues with payouts, fraud, websites crashing, and competition made it difficult for the online casino world to take off. It’s different from the new online casinos in Ontario that are at the top of their technological game – check out Time2play to look at one and compare it to the situations in the early days of online casinos to get a feel for how they’ve evolved in leaps and bounds.

Bill C-218 and Sports Betting

The introduction of single-event betting was a game-changer for the Canadian sports betting industry. It paved the way for increased revenue opportunities for provincial governments and local businesses. The new regulation also attracted international betting companies to the Canadian market, keen to tap into a burgeoning audience of sports enthusiasts. 

Moreover, by legitimizing single-event betting, the government hoped to divert funds away from the grey market and back into the regulated environment, thereby ensuring player safety while playing online and channeling revenues back into public coffers. Additionally, it boosted sports engagement, with fans having the opportunity to bet on their favorite teams or players in individual events, deepening their connection to the games they love.

Ontario’s iGaming Evolution: The 2022 Leap

April 2022 marked a significant shift in Canada’s gambling industry, particularly in Ontario. The province introduced a new framework for the iGaming market, representing a progressive move in a historically conservative landscape. Under this new structure, online gaming providers can obtain a license from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), granting them the authority to offer their services to Ontarians.

This change is indicative of a broader shift in perspective, acknowledging the potential of regulated online gambling. Instead of trying to curb or prevent online gambling, which has grown exponentially in popularity and accessibility due to technological advancements, the Ontario government has chosen to create a secure, transparent, and regulated environment. 

That ensures that players have access to safe platforms while simultaneously generating potential revenue for the province.

Ensuring Fair Play and Player Protection

Ontario’s latest venture into iGaming further underscores this commitment. By providing a regulated environment, the province is taking steps to keep players safe from unscrupulous operators often found in unregulated markets. They emphasize the importance of operators using Random Number Generators (RNGs) for games, ensuring unpredictable and fair outcomes. 

Moreover, the transparency demanded from licensed operators allows for the tracking and auditing of game results, deterring potential malpractices. Training customer support teams to recognize signs of problem gambling and offering timely assistance also became paramount. All these measures collectively aim to create a gaming environment where players can enjoy without compromising their safety and well-being.

The Canadian iGaming market continues to evolve, balancing the demand for more gaming options with the need for player protection and societal responsibility. With the burgeoning growth of online casinos, eSports, and virtual sports betting, Canada’s regulatory landscape will undoubtedly continue to adapt in the coming years.