History of Gambling in Canada

Stone Age Man Playing Slot Machine

Canada’s Gambling History: From Betting on Bones to Online Casinos

The popularity of gambling worldwide has been on a constant rise for many decades, and Canada isn’t an exception. Nowadays, millions of Canadians enjoy gambling in land-based facilities or online gambling sites.

This country has a long history of gambling on its territory, which dates long before the English and the French discovery the country. This article will analyze the fascinating history of gambling in Canada from the beginning until today.

An Overview of the History

Let us take a closer look at Canadian gambling history.

Did you know gambling has been popular for centuries, even before physical and online casinos emerged? It’s hard to pinpoint precisely when indigenous people in Canada started participating in games of chance, but the earliest documented evidence suggests that it goes back thousands of years.

Slahal, an ancient tradition of the indigenous people, is still alive today – players bet using bones from deer and other animals competing against each other in this centuries-old gambling game.

Natives conducted the game as a sacred ritual and family recreation where prizes could be won. Slahal is played by two opposing teams with two pairs of bones. One of the pairs features a stripe, while the other one doesn’t.

A set of scoring sticks are also used, and in certain areas, a “king” or a “kick” stick (an additional stick won by the team that starts the game). It involves taking two bones from each other and then guessing the position of the unmarked ones.

A correct guess takes two bones, while a wrong guess will cost the team one scoring stick. Players and spectators were drumming and singing while playing Slahal. Also, anyone could place a bet during the game, regardless if they are playing or just watching the action. You can read about the History of Indian Casinos in Canada here.

Discovery of Canada and Ban on Dice Games

In 1497, an Italian explorer and navigator named John Cabot claimed Canada for England. Since this new territory was under British rule, all laws, including those on gambling, were also applicable to residents.

Ban on Dice Game IconIt’s interesting to note that as far back as the 1330s, King Richard II of England had banned all dice games due to his concerns that his archers were spending too much time gambling. He also feared this could lead to a dangerous environment for his royal entourage.

During his exploration, Cabot discovered that the native people in Canada were playing games of chance with a deck of cards. Although card games have been around since the invention of paper in 105 AD in China, yet nobody knows how cards ended up in Canada

However, the games played by the indigenous people were very primitive and not comparable to modern-day games. Despite this, Cabot’s discovery is, by most, considered the starting point of actual gambling activities in Canada.

Interestingly, Cabot noted that the natives were not playing these games purely for enjoyment. It was also for spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical awakening.

The First Horse Racing Event in Canada

Horse Racing in 1760'sDid you know that Canada’s first officially organized horse racing event occurred on July 1, 1767, in Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham? Interestingly, this was the first sport introduced by the British in this area.

Soldiers organized the event from the Quebec City garrison, who offered a prize of $40 to the winner, Captain Prescott, who rode a mare named Modesty. However, it was also an official betting event, allowing spectators to wager the race’s outcome.

Gambling Ban in Canada

After sports betting came the lottery. Father Antoine Labelle, also known as Cure Labelle, presented the national lottery in 1882, which had a charitable purpose.

However, his inquiry was rejected by the Legislative Council, postponing the first draw up until 1884. Four years later, the Liberal government recruited Cure Labelle, and in 1890 a new lottery was introduced in Canada.

You should know that religion had a significant influence in the 1890s, which is why the House of Commons in 1892 enacted the Canadian Criminal Code. With it, all forms of gambling got prohibited in all provinces.

But the prohibition opened the doors for criminals and mobsters to organize illegal underground networks for gambling purposes.

Law Changes in 1970

In the start of the 20th century. the Canadian government recognized the potential economic benefits that certain forms of gambling could bring the country. So, they allowed the organization of bingo and raffle events, but only for charitable purposes.

A decade later, the government lifted the ban on horse races gambling and permitted pari-mutuel betting on these events. This system pools all bets together into one pot.

The Canadian Criminal Code was amended in 1910 to permit occasional games of chance for charitable and religious purposes, with further amendments added in 1925. It permitted gambling events at town exhibitions and fairs.

After 1925, there were several amendments to Canadian gambling laws, but little changed in the overall legal framework until 1969 when the government decided to legalize the lottery. The reason for this was the recognition of the tremendous profit potential of lotteries, and both the state and provincial governments began using them to fund special projects.

The Montreal Olympics

In 1970, the Canadian government decided to place a bid for organizing the 1976 Summer Olympics in the city of Montreal. So after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted them as hosts, the government decided to host a lottery to fund the whole project.

The Olympic Stadium was expected to cost $250 million but ended up going up to a staggering $1.4 billion.

So with the help of the lottery, Canada managed to raise $230 million. It also gave the winner a $1 million tax-free jackpot, which was the world’s largest payout.

Legalization of Gambling and the First Land-Based Casino in Canada

IInside a Land-based Casino in Canadan 1985, the Federal Government of Canada passed numerous amendments which resulted in the legalization of gambling activities on its territory; allowing their transfer from state to federal jurisdiction.

So, this gave all provinces the freedom and authority to enact their own regulations on gambling. During this time, all forms of casino gambling were legalized. Bettors could also legally wager on sports but not place single-game sports betting.

Gambling legalization has also led to the establishment of hundreds of land–based casinos in the country. Some are state-owned, while others are private.

Establishments that are owned and operated by the provincial governments offer gambling games such as:

  • Lottery
  • Slot Machines
  • Casino Table Games
  • Horse Racing

Crystal Casino made history as the first land- casino to be established in Canada, opening its doors in Winnipeg back in 1989. However, it sadly said goodbye to the gambling world in 1997 and its operations passed on to other Canadian casinos around the area.

Another casino was established in Montreal in 1993, while the other provinces opened several of their own land-based casinos a few years later.

From Manitoba to Saskatchewan and from Quebec to Nova Scotia, you can find commercial casinos. But don’t forget the indigenous communities – they run their own land-casinos that help fund their communities’ future!

Online Gambling in Canada

The appearance of online gambling sites has revolutionized the gambling industry, which is now worth billions of dollars. However, this form of wagering is a gray area in some provinces in Canada, as the Criminal Code still considers all gambling activities illegal unless licensed by the provincial regulatory bodies.

As for the Canadian online gambling laws, it depends on the province. For example, in Ontario, online casinos have been legalized, but it requires the casino to have a license from iGaming Ontario, a branch of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission. However, in most other provinces, all online casinos operating in these territories offer illegal gambling. But, the Criminal Code does not mention gambling at offshore gaming sites.

Many online casinos welcome players from Canada with specialized offers just for them. The most reputable ones provide bonuses and promotions in C$. They also allow them to wager on all kinds of casino games and place bets on most sports.

The Most Popular forms of Gambling in Canada are:

  • Lotteries and raffle tickets
  • Instant lottery tickets or instant online games
  • Electronic gambling machines like slot machines
  • Casino table games like blackjack, poker, roulette
  • Sports Betting
  • Bingo


It is worth noting that a native reserve from Canada, called Mohawk Nation, has established the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which has the authority to offer gaming licenses to every online casino that qualifies for one.

So that is why you see many offshore online casinos licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

Now, the Mohawk Nation argued that they have the right to operate land-based and online casinos, as they own their sovereign nation. Because of that, the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation can run such establishments and not be prosecuted.

You should know that the Kahnawake Gaming Commission is one of the best in the world, as it requires casino operators to follow some strict rules.

In 2010, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation launched Canada’s first legal online casino. The site offered online casino games like roulette, blackjack, and slots, virtual poker rooms, and sports betting.

Recent History

As of August 2021, Canadians can legally place a single-game sports bet thanks to the newest amendment added to the Criminal Code. So, for Canadians, all forms of sports betting are now permitted in the country.

In the same year, it was estimated that Canadian gambling entities gained a total income of $12.5 billion. This was a result of the fast technological development that made it way easier for various forms of gambling establishments and different online casinos.

Mobile gambling is a very popular trend worldwide and to become the future of online gambling. Reports have estimated that the Canadian mobile gaming industry earned over $643 million in 2021 alone.

According to gambling statistics from 2018, around 75% of all Canadians have participated in some form of gambling. Also, at least 19.3 million Canadians are active online gamblers, which ranks the country at the eighth spot in terms of the country that has used the most money on online gambling.

On April 4, 2021, Ontario became the first province to offer online gambling licensees to casino and sports betting sites wanting to do business in Ontario.

So now, over 70 casino and legal sports betting sites are licensed and regulated by iGaming Ontario, which the provincial government authorizes.

iGaming Ontario, a branch of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission (commonly known as AGCO), plays a significant role in the Canadian gambling landscape. Looking back on the country’s journey to legalize gambling, it’s clear that this has been a monumental step for Canada.

Each province in Canada has its own regulatory body responsible for overseeing and controlling gambling activities.

These authorities ensure that gambling practices are conducted safely and fairly, with the best interests of both players and gambling establishments in mind.

Furthermore, these gambling authorities’ role includes:

  • Offering information on gaming practices.
  • Guide to responsibly gambling
  • Addressing serious issues as they arise.
  • Maintaining open communication with the government, media, and public to provide a well-rounded understanding of the industry.

Currently, there are over 200 licensed land-based gambling establishments in Canada, and they offer over 70,000 slot Machines and over 2000+ casino table games. The Canadian Gaming Commission and the provincial regulators monitor these establishments.

What are the Up and Downside

The Upside of Gambling

  • Can be fun and entertaining
  • Brings in taxes, and creates jobs in the industry
  • Can be good for Tourism
  • You can play digital casinos online, and on your mobile devices.

The Downside

  • May course pathological gambling
  • Problem gambling can negatively effect relationships, physical and mental health
  • Can be an economic disaster for some


Looking Ahead: The Future of Gambling in Canada

How the Future of Gambling in Canada Might Look

The gambling industry is continuously growing, adapting to technological advancements and trends. In recent years, Canada has shifted toward a more accepting attitude towards gambling, mainly as online platforms have emerged and expanded their services to players.

Recent developments in Ontario suggest that more provinces may follow suit. So this indicates that the trend toward greater openness to gambling in Canada will likely continue.

Looking at the recent Canadian online gambling statistics, we can say that Canadians love to gamble online. Those numbers indicate that more and more people will turn to online casino gambling.

Experts predict gaming sites will earn around $2.13 billion in 2023 just from gamblers wagering from their mobile devices.

Another form of online gambling that is growing and will continue to in the future is crypto gambling.

Many gaming sites now accept cryptocurrencies as a payment method. But some of them aren’t licensed and regulated by any authorities.

So this can cause problems for players, as unregulated sites can manipulate the odds and refuse to pay players when they win.

So likely, we will see more regulated sites like these start offering crypto to the benefit of players wanting to bet with bitcoin on a safe place.


Canada has a rich history of gambling that goes back to when only indigenous people inhabited the land. Since then, Canadian gambling laws have undergone numerous changes, but the country’s gambling culture has remained strong.

Today, gambling remains a popular activity in Canada, with new forms of online gambling continually reshaping the industry and prompting the introduction of new laws every year. It’s safe to say that the future of the gambling industry in Canada is bright and on the right track.

You might also want to read :

The History of Blackjack

History of Slot Machines

All types of casino games you can play

Nicky Smith, Editor at OnlineCasinos.net, also fact-checked this page.

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