Overview of Canada’s Gambling History

Canada has a rich and storied history of betting, gambling, and games of chance. From the earliest 15th-century settlers’ encounters with First Nations tribes to the multi-billion-dollar industry today, gambling has become one of the largest branches of entertainment in Canada to-date. Lets get an overview of Canada’s gambling history in the below article. 

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First Nations and Canada’s early history

The history of gambling in Canada starts long before the country’s inception and even long before European settlers arrived on its shores. For centuries, games of skill and chance were popular forms of entertainment for Canada’s native people that have been passed down through their cultural histories. Some of these games, like Slahal (or ‘Stickgame’), even had spiritual significance to the indigenous people of Canada.

When the Italian explorer, John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), landed on Canada’s shores in 1497, he encountered gambling among the native peoples as a favorite pastime and educational activity. These games were generally played with sticks, pebbles, and bones but had many of the same game principles of chance we know today.

Cabot and his crew brought with them playing cards that were new to the continent and eventually were introduced to the indigenous people and enjoyed by all. Along with the playing cards, John Cabot also brought more conservative views towards gambling, influenced greatly by English common law. 

A short-lived gambling ban

In 1892, Canada instituted a complete ban on all forms of gambling, according to the Canadian Criminal Code, which was based on English common law principles. Back in the 1380s, King Richard III of England banned gambling (in the form of backgammon and most dice games) because he considered it a distraction for his soldiers.

Gambling among the people of Canada, however, was too popular to be banned for long. By 1910, many exceptions had already been made to allow for bets to be made on horse-racing (as long as some of the winners’ stake went back to the track) and occasional games of chance, such as bingo and raffles, where profits were used for charitable or religious purposes.

These exceptions even extended to games of chance at agricultural fairs, festivals, and carnivals, too, opening the door for legal gambling only a few decades later.

Gambling laws in Canada

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Overall, Canadian attitudes towards gambling remained unfriendly until the 1960s, as it was seen as a disreputable activity in general. However, by 1969, the Canadian government began to see a real financial advantage in the institution of local and nationwide lotteries, eventually leading to sweeping changes in the criminal code by 1970.

In 1974, the very first lottery was held to raise funds for the Olympics in Montreal. So although small, illegal casinos existed for short periods throughout Canada’s history, its first commercial casino opened in Winnipeg in 1989. The opening of a Montreal casino quickly followed it in 1993.

With a few exceptions, these massive changes to the legal code gave provinces the authority to license and regulate gambling, eventually resulting in creating a multi-billion-dollar gambling industry throughout Canada.

Every province in Canada has different rules governing gambling, and the relationship between the government and private companies varies widely. Some provinces allow private companies to operate the businesses, and some don’t, but, in every instance, the government owns the property and issues licenses as it sees fit.

Online gambling in Canada

Nowadays, the Canadian gambling industry has largely moved into the online sphere. The unprecedented convenience has attracted more players than ever, allowing gambling enthusiasts to play from their home’s comfort on a computer, a tablet, or a mobile device. 

Online casinos (usually offshore establishments) have come to dominate the market, largely making the Canadian government’s laws and rules superfluous. Thousands of online casinos attract millions of players from across the country and the world, with just a mouse click. This development has not gone unnoticed by traditional brick-and-mortar casinos either.

The rise of online casinos has prompted land-based giants like Caesars Windsor to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on facility upgrades and luxury renovations to compete with the perks of online establishments like accessibility and free bonuses. 

The past century has seen Canada’s gambling industry’s evolution move from a barely tolerated social activity to a widely accepted and enjoyed leisure pastime. 

The future of gambling in Canada promises even more flexibility and choice for players, with land-based casinos, international online casinos, and local online casinos all competing for the attention of players who now have more options than ever. And that makes Canadian casino players the biggest winners of all.