Legal Guide to Online Casino Action in Canada


Canadian legislation regarding online casinos is a gray area. According to the Criminal Code of 1892, gambling in all its forms was declared illegal in Canada. During the first half of the 20th century, a gradual relaxing of this total ban took place. For example, in 1900 permission was granted for raffles and bingo to be held to assist fundraising for charitable causes. In 1910 horse racing was declared legal and in 1925 various forms of gambling could take place as long as they formed part of the entertainment mix at public fairs or exhibitions.

What happened next?

In the modern era, circa 1969, the Canadian government recognized the value of lotteries as a means to raise funds for special projects. The Criminal Code was amended so as to allow both tiers of government to run lotteries for special purposes. The most notable example of this was the 1974 lottery held in order to raise money for the Montreal Olympics

In 1985 the federal government delegated the rights to hold lotteries, horse racing, casinos and video slot machines to each province.

The Criminal Code

In an archaic style reminiscent of the Victorian era, the Criminal Code states that it is illegal to run a betting house or to be present in one. It does not say anything about an online betting house. Thus, “internet gambling” is nowhere mentioned in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is not clear whether Canadian online casinos and poker rooms are regulated by this code.

The Criminal Code further states that the provinces may run various forms of gambling, including lottery schemes. Section 207 of the Criminal Code obliquely refers to lottery schemes that can be “operated on or through a computer”.

Khanawake breaks the mould

Looking at the letter of the law, another section of the Criminal Code states that only the Canadian government and its provinces may operate any form of gambling whatsoever. Enter the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation, which is situated just outside Montreal in a large reserve. It argued that as a sovereign nation it has the right to operate casinos. In 1996 it established the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. This body granted rights to certain online casinos that qualified according to their rules. There has been debate around the legality of this at the highest level, but no resolution has yet been brought to the table.

The modern era

Several provinces have blazed a trail when it comes to the provision of legal online gambling. Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario come to mind. The PlayNow site can only be used for online casino games and poker by residents of British Columbia.

Today, the online casinos that Canadian citizens can play with legally are registered and operated either from foreign countries such as Antigua, Costa Rica and Malta or from Khanawake within our very own country. This is because the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation is able to run a casino or lease space to online casinos and not be prosecuted.

Legal age to play

With the exception of three provinces, the legal gambling age in Canada is 19. In Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta, it is legal to gamble at the age of 18 years. These rules apply to both online and land-based gambling. Free games have no age limit.

The bottom line

This is what you need to know about your position with respect to online legal gambling in Canada:

  • By gambling online, a Canadian citizen is not putting him- or herself at any risk of prosecution.

  • By gambling online, a Canadian citizen is not putting him- or herself at any risk of prosecution.

  • Only fully legal online casinos can be selected for our recommended list.

  • The recommended online casinos operate “offshore” and therefore are completely legal for Canadians to play on.

  • You can use a wide variety of payment methods on all the online casinos we recommend. All reputable sites will accept every major banking option.