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Gambling in Canada

Canadian Betting and Casino Laws

By Reno Rollins

Canada Gambling InformationGambling in Canada has experienced a boom period in recent years. Some form of gambling is available in each of the ten provinces (British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick) and three territories (Yukon, Northwest Territory and Nunavut).

The Legal Age to Gamble in Canada

The legal age to gamble varies throughout the provinces. For example, the required age to gamble in a casino is 18 in Quebec, while it is 19 in Ontario. For lottery and scratch-tickets, the standard legal age is 18. Regardless of the slight differences, the legal age to gamble in Canada is uniformly lower than in the United States.

Gaming in Canada operates entirely under the authority of the provincial and territorial governments. Charities, First Nations (Indian tribes) and private groups must all follow the guidelines set out by the government.

The Evolution of Gambling in Canada

Gambling in Canada has always been linked to their Canadian Criminal Code. In 1892, this code banned all forms of gambling. This code was very similar to the English laws that Canada incorporated during its Confederation in 1867.

The stance on gambling slowly softened, and charitable games such as bingo and raffles were allowed in 1900. This was followed by horse racing in 1910. In 1925, gambling events were allowed to take place at agricultural fairs and exhibitions.

A Criminal Code amendment was passed in 1969 which allowed federal and provincial governments to use the lottery in order to help fund worthy projects. In fact, the first national lottery was held in 1974 and raised money for the Montreal Olympics.

1980 saw the opening of Cash Casino. Located in Calgary, it was the country’s first year-round charitable casino.

Another amendment to the Criminal Code in 1985 allowed provincial governments to introduce gaming devices such as slot machines. The first year-round commercial casino, Crystal Casino, opened in Winnipeg in 1989.

In 1990, New Brunswick became the first province to allow Video Lottery Terminals. These machines were also allowed in non-licensed establishments such as bowling alleys and taxi stands. In 1995, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan placed a limit on the number of VLT machines which could operate in their jurisdiction.

By 2001, Canada had over 31,000 slot machines, 1,880 bingo halls, 59 permanent casinos, over 38,000 VLT machines, over 32,000 lottery ticket centers, 70 racetracks and 107 betting teletheatres.

Since that time, other forms of gaming have been introduced, and gambling in Canada has proceeded to grow at a steady rate. In fact, net revenue from gambling in Canada increased from $3.2 billion in 1993 to $11.8 billion in 2003. In 2002, the national average spent on gambling was $483 per year (up from $130 in 1992).

Gambling by Territory in Canada

The following list should provide you with a basic idea of what types of gambling are available in the various provinces or territories in Canada:

  • Alberta - Casinos, lottery, horse tracks and horse track racino. Charitable groups are licensed by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. Alberta has more gambling per capita than any other location in the country.
  • British Columbia - Casinos, lottery, horse tracks and horse track racino. Casinos are privately operated at the permission of the government, but the province receives 10% of the net gaming revenue from a “community” casino and one-sixth from a “destination” casino. They have also allowed bingo halls to begin adding slot machines.
  • Manitoba - Casinos, lottery and horse track racino.
  • New Brunswick - Horse racing and lottery.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador - Horse racing and lottery.
  • Nova Scotia - Casinos, lottery and horse tracks.
  • Ontario - Casinos, lottery, horse tracks and horse track racinos.
  • Prince Edward Island - Horse track racinos and lottery.
  • Quebec - Casinos, lottery and horse track racinos.
  • Saskatchewan - Casinos, lottery, horse tracks and horse track racino.
  • Yukon Territory - Casino (non-profit) and lottery.
  • Northwest Territory - Lottery.
  • Nunavut Territory - Lottery.

Types of Gambling in Canada

Numerous types of gambling are found in Canada. This list should give you an idea of what is (and isn’t) allowed:

  • Lottery - Legal in all ten provinces and three territories. (Another country where the lottery is popular is Haiti - you can read about the Haiti lottery here.)
  • Casinos - Legal in all provinces except New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland/Labrador. This includes both table games and slot machines.
  • The largest casino in the country is Casino Windsor (which will be renamed Caesars Windsor in 2008). This casino is owned by the government of Ontario, but it is operated by Harrah’s Entertainment. It attracts around six million visitors annually.
  • Charitable Gaming - This includes bingo and other such games. Legal in all provinces and territories.
  • Horse Racing - Legal in all provinces and territories.
  • Private Bets - Betting between individuals who are not professional gamblers is allowed under Section 204 of the Criminal Code.
  • Internet Gambling - Online gambling is not allowed in Canada.
  • Video Lottery Terminals (or VLTs) - Not available in Ontario and British Columbia. In some provinces they are restricted to licensed establishments, while other allow them in non-licensed businesses. They have been called the “crack cocaine of gambling,” due to their addictive nature. In fact, studies have found that one in four VLT players are at risk or have already become problem gamblers.

Problem Gambling in Canada

Problem gambling is taken very seriously in Canada. The Canadian Safety Council estimates that over 200 people per year commit suicide due to problems stemming from a gambling addiction (such as bankruptcy, domestic abuse, family breakup, assault, fraud and theft). A 2004 study indicated that problem gambling was a factor in 6.3 percent of suicides. In fact, officials in Nova Scotia are required to inquire about gambling habits when investigating a suicide.

A 2002 study showed that 18.9 million Canadians gambled (two thirds of the population). Of this number, it was estimated that 1.2 million (5% of the adult population) were either problem gamblers or had the potential to become one.

Help is available, however, and numerous 24-hour hotlines are in operation throughout the country. In addition, the various provinces spend millions of dollars each year in an effort to educate citizens about the risks associated with gambling. These efforts are also bolstered by a number of independent groups.

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