Evolution of Gambling Laws in Canada

There is no doubt that massive progress has been made in recent years.

Fans of gambling who live in Canada have a few options when it comes to enjoying their favorite pastime. With land-based and online casinos available in several places across the country, it is more socially acceptable and economically important today than ever before.

This has only been possible thanks to changes in the laws which govern gambling activities, and looking back at how Canada’s legislation has evolved over the past half-century is a good way of understanding how far things have moved on from outright prohibition.

A long standing love-affair with gambling

It is worth pointing out that like most other parts of the world, gambling has been popular in Canada for as long as humans have been around.

While modern residents are able to take advantage of the best Canadian casinos in the COVID era, in bygone ages there were all sorts of ancient equivalents used by indigenous peoples as well as those brought over by colonial settlers.

This historic link with gambling has definitely helped to change opinions and generate more interest in the industry in recent years, although as you might imagine there has also been resistance to legal gambling at various points.

Attempts at prohibition

Shortly after the country of Canada was formed in the mid-19th century, all sorts of laws were put in place to govern the way that the new nation would be run.

One of these was the Canadian Criminal Code, which was enforced starting in 1892. One of the inclusions of this piece of legislation was an outright ban on gambling in all its guises.

Political leaders at the time saw gambling as unsuitable as an activity for Canadian citizens to participate in, and so this blanket outlawing of it aligned with the morals and sensibilities of the time.

Gradual easing of restrictions

Laws have rarely prevented people from doing anything, and this was true of gambling in Canada in the years leading up to the 21st century. The illegality of games of chance pushed the practice underground, and as has been seen in other countries, total prohibition was unsustainable.

By 1900, just eight years after gambling was officially outlawed, the government rolled back its original stance and began permitting certain types of games in certain situations.

Bingo was made legal at this time, likely because of its popularity in combination with the relatively low stakes involved in the games. Raffles were also brought back, which makes sense since these were primarily used by charities to raise funds, and indeed non-profit organizations were the only ones allowed to run them.

Flash forward to 1910 and another evolution to gambling laws meant that horse racing and the associated betting culture that remains strong to this day were no longer illegal in Canada. Residents were once again able to experience the events and opportunities which had previously been used for gambling, without fear of reprisals from the authorities.

By the mid-1920s, another update to the law was introduced, meaning that it was no longer just charities that could host raffles and other games of chance in a public setting, but also operators of events such as fairs and exhibitions.

Obviously all of these changes brought with them the bureaucracy necessary to keep gambling above-board and fair. Operators would have to apply for licenses to run games, and not every application was successful.

Recent changes to Canada’s gambling laws

As the 20th century progressed and social values became more liberal and permissive, so too the calls for more types of gambling to be legalized grew in volume.

By 1969, the government decided that lotteries were a potential source not only of tax income, but also as a public fundraising solution which could allow for a whole host of projects to be catalyzed with players’ cash.

The first such event to receive lottery-derived funding was the 1976 Olympics, held in Montreal. For two years prior, the government-run lotteries had raked in large sums to offset the steep costs of hosting it.

Gambling regulations became even more lenient from this point forward, and by the mid-1980s all sorts of activities were allowable under law. In turn this helped bricks and mortar casinos crop up, and also put Canada in a good position to embrace online casinos when the technology caught up with the demand.

There are still more legal changes which could empower Canada’s gambling industry further, but there is also no doubt that massive progress has been made in recent years.