From Sticks to Online Casinos- The Entire Gambling History

Joseph Havens

Casino expert

From Sticks to Online Casinos - The Entire Gambling History

Walk through all the stages of Canadian gambling, from 2000 BC to our current-day love of online casinos with us. Ready to travel in time?

Canadian gambling dominated by several cultures

It’s time to learn all the facts about Canada’s gambling timeline. From religion to spirituality, from a hobby to a lifestyle, gambling is here to stay!

You will be able to understand what The First Nations did to entertain themselves, then the unmatched Vikings. We also go deep into the Modern Era and how gambling looks and feels like today.

What are we dealing with here?

We must define gambling first and then analyze its history on Canadian territory.

Encyclopædia Britannica defines gambling as the outcome of chance-driven bets or activities; alternatively, gambling may result from half-chance and half-skill-based endeavours like sports or contests.

Now that we have established a basis, it’s time to dive into Canada’s gambling story in chronological order.

First Nations’ games: religious, athletic, and fun

First nations'games

The universe of ancient Canadian gambling is rich, and the native people keep it alive even to this day. Let’s talk about games and gaming props in more detail.

1. Team games emerge

By definition, land-based gambling is tied to the existence of multiple players. From immemorial times, this land’s ancestors created luck-based games that engaged small groups of people and then large teams.

Stick around to find out what these games and races are!

2. Sticks and stones make me gamble

Sticks and stones

To play things similar to our current-day table games, you need props. In Antiquity, the materials were scarce, obviously. This is why people got crafty in creating their paws and pieces, using wood, stone, and bone.

This claim is backed up by archeological evidence.

3.  Slahal or the “Stick Game”

Imagine two rows of folks sitting, one in front of the other. One of them will handle the animal bones in the first round, passing them from person to person. It happens while traditional songs are sung. The opposing team needs to focus on the rhythm in which the bone is given, according to the music.


The no-bone team’s objective is to guess the person who ends up having the remains after the music stops.

If this is a game played with bones, why do people call it “The Stick Game”?

To keep score, people engrave special wooden sticks with a specific shape and size.

4. Indigenous motivation for playing such games

According to the ancient wisdom of the main tribes within the Canadian border, games have a primary role in one’s health, on all planes, from the healthy development of the body to the balance of the mind.

Primitive reports post-John Cabot to modern-day scientific research have agreed that First Nations use games of luck and skill to expand their health, learn their life basics, and grow spiritually. Just like in many other cultures, gambling games are used for learning basic math.

But not all things are education related. Sometimes, gambling games are just a simple and entertaining pastime.

5. Sports and sports betting appear

Sports and sports betting

Much like the Greek Olympic Games, Canada’s oldest civilizations loved to participate in sports competitions.

Usually, they would show their mastery in things like:

  • Spear handling/throwing;
  • Archery;
  • Speed canoe;
  • Toboggan.

Not familiar with the last one? Let us explain!

A toboggan is a simple and aerodynamic sled used mainly by the Innu and Cree peoples of Canada to move from an initial point to a designated destination through snowy terrain.

Yes, people would organize snow races and crown the Toboggan champion for their short total time in the race.

Fun fact: Although a distinct Canadian artifact, forms of sleds similar to Toboggans were found in Australia, as the indigenous people of Tangalooma used them for transportation in the desert.

6. Evidence of dice-like objects

Rectangular, brown pieces of game memorabilia, made mostly from animal bones or antlers, have been found and kept to this day.

Although they look a little different from our day-to-day dice, their shape and usage are very similar.

Unfortunately, we do not know the exact rules of antique dice games. The good news is that indigenous people keep this tradition alive and train artisans to create these objects and create new usage.

7. Slender stick dice game

Slender stick dice game

It might be unusual for a 21st-century person to envision dice as long, thin, and carefully decorated sticks with intricate designs on them.

However, to tribes like Meskwaki, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and more, this is a regular occurrence.

Yes, that’s right!

Chippewa stick dice all have one dark side and a light side. A complete set of three is held by a player that has to throw them in the air. The way they land indicates the score the player gets.

Dice side Points accumulated

All plain combination


One plain + two snakes


One snake + two plains


One snake + two men


One of each


One man + two plains


One man + two snakes


One plain + two men


The game ends when the winner sums up 50 points!

8. The powerful role of Indigenous women

The powerful role of Indigenous women

The First Nation women were and still are engaged in gaming and sporting activity. Both historical resources and current-day evidence back this up.

For example, some Native American tribes organize athletism competitions in which the young women show their skill and endurance, for example, the so-called “Foot Races”.

If in the distant past, these sport exercises were to teach the young ones about life-saving abilities and legitimize their status, nowadays it is primarily a friendly race between peers. Nonetheless, even if the white colonizers wanted to push the idea of fragile feminity on the First Nations, the truth is that there was no differentiation between men and women when it comes to game skills.

Fun fact: Young female adolescents celebrated their first menstruation with races like these.

9. Athletic women as the beauty standard

Athletic women as the beauty standard

Indigenous women loved the idea of games and their implication in them. Recollections from authors as well as archeologists and sociologists all point to the same idea.

Great physical strength and mental ability for their type of gambling were seen as attractive features. This on the opposite of the Western standard that deemed them as “unfeminine” and sometimes downright inappropriate.

Even today, these women like to have fun and take pride in their sense of competition.

10. Spear dice: Toys for the Gods

Spear dice: Toys for the Gods

From antique times, historians have uncovered yet another piece of gaming craft. Up to 29 inch long slender pieces of wood, with either red or blue tips, are kept in museums to this day. On its sides, patches of green or blue are usually painted in a precise and repeating pattern.

Sometimes, besides the paint, the end of these objects was decorated with nicely coloured feathers. At first, you may be inclined to believe they are weapons or religious items.

They are dice!

Zuni stick-dice can be played, but initially, they were crafted and offered to the Twin Heroes, the Civilization-bringers in the tribal Genesis. From altars of offerings, they became holy toys and, sometimes, symbolic arrowheads.

Fun fact: Archeological evidence suggests that these artifacts are older than the bow’s invention and common usage, making them at least 10,000 years old.

The dice game dictated man’s fate

In the Northwest tribes, man’s destiny was not entirely his. When they reached puberty, boys entered a long-lasting ritual to meet their “guardian” in a dream. Each guardian is a half-man and half-animal immortal being, taking care of their human, much like angels in Judeo-Christianism.

It is believed that in the “Other World,” which only shamans can see, these guardians are playing with the spear dice and deciding their protegee’s fate.

If one’s guardian lost, then the ending was fatal to the person involved.

11. A peek into the past

A peek into the past

You can still see games like Slahal happening even today, and thankfully, video resources like YouTube immortalize them forever.

The original tale, however, showed the communion between man and nature.

On one of the rows stood the ancestors and opposed to them stood the bears. And since humans won, they ruled the land and celebrated the victory every time a game was initiated.

But these were not the only roles!

Sometimes groups of people settled disputes over food and land by playing day-long games with sticks and music.

12. Standing the test of time

As surprising as it may seem, gambling in Ancient Canada was prominent, and so were sports competitions. The most remarkable notion of it all is how the games, objects, and rituals survive to this day.

Even through the hardships of genocide, the tribes that inhabit this land kept and passed over to other generations the games they have played for thousands of years.

Casinobonusca understands this intricate and vital role of gambling of the First Nations. To honour it, we have created a special page dedicated to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and some of the casinos it has tested and licensed over the years. Each online casino with this license is presented alongside its popular offers.

13. From folklore to employment

From folklore to employment

Before the European settlers, Canada’s population was occupied with making these games happen on a large scale. This means that crafters, athletes, and people with a leading role in the tribe had a designated job.

Through the turmoils of the millennia, this attitude survived.

In 90s Canada, 71% of the staff working in First Nation casino resorts are of Indigenous descent. The problem of unemployment in these now marginalized communities was reduced from 40% initially to 15%.

Lesser-known Viking roots: games & fights

Lesser-known Viking roots

More than a millennium ago, the brave Northern navigators arrived in Canada. They called the indigenous people Skealings and brought their own games.

In this section, we explore the most popular gambling activities of Vikings, some of which have remained in Canadian history.

14.  Hnefatafl

This is a board game we can better explain by saying it behaves like chess in its strategy part and has the backgammon quality of being die-dictated.

Evidence of it has been found in many Viking settlements like:

  • Great Britain & Scotland;
  • Iceland;
  • Greenland.

It is safe to assume that the warriors and navigators who set foot in Canada were also aware of it.

What’s the purpose?

On the rectangular board, the King piece sits in the middle and needs to be protected by one of the team’s pieces sitting around it. The other team’s parts are on the edges and need to attack the middle.

Unfortunately, we do not have the game’s full rules kept anywhere, as Odin’s followers only used their rune writing for religious purposes or to engrave headstones.

Fun fact: The most pristine set was found in Iceland. It contained 12 red pieces and 12 white ones, all made of animal teeth. The King piece is made of whalebone, and it looks like an old man with a two-spike beard.

15.  Warriors were buried with their game sets

We now know how a Hnefatafl board looks like because it was kept in graves near the gamblers that liked them the most.

There are two main types of boards. The mini ones had 7 horizontal and 7 vertical squares, while the bigger version has 19 on both sides. The pawns that survived were made of materials like:

  • Wood;
  • Glass;
  • Animal bone;
  • Precious stones or metals.

The Dark Ages dice had 4 faces and were oddly numbered from 3 to 6. We cannot tell for sure if the system was different from our current dice or other versions have been lost over the centuries.

Fun fact: One Nordic legend tells us that gambling was a favourite pastime of the elite. Two Kings are said to have played dice to settle who will rule the island of Hisigen.

16.  Horse fights: A show for Odin

Horse fights: A show for Odin

Vikings liked to see fierce competitions between animals, most often young stallions. The battle was rough and only ended when one of the animals died or fled the place.

To make the fight even more bloody, other animals were gathered around the scene to incite the fighters to show their “alpha” status.

To get into the grace of gods, the Northerners sacrificed animals, particularly pigs and horses. To Odin, the All-Father, people used to give dead horses as an offering.

17.  Nine Mens Morris, or the old version of Tic Tac Toe

Nine Mens Morris Tic Tac Toe

This game has other names like Nitavl or Tavl, but the basis is still the same. The nine-point board (which derives the name) hosts dark and light pieces. Just like in chess, the player who uses the light set goes first.

The objective of this playthrough is to get three pieces of the same colour on the same side.

Initially, just a few pawns are used, but more are placed on the board as the game continues. Then, the game continues with all the “soldiers in battle”. If a sequence is completed, the round’s winner gets to confiscate a piece from the loser’s set.

Tips: Want to be on top of your Nine Mens Morris game? Place one of your pieces in a position that allows you to move back and forth on two lines to maximize your chances.

18.  Six-sided bone die

Yes, the Vikings played many other chance-based games in their spare time with six-sided dice. They preferred to create them from animal bones and polish them.  

Unfortunately, not all games and their rules have been kept up to this day. One is still known to us, though.

Meyer die game

Dice are shaken and in a bowl by one player, which can see the score. They can either tell the adversary’s accurate score or lie about it by estimating it higher or lower than it actually is.

Now, the opposing person can do any of the following:

  • Believe the other and aim at rolling higher;
  • Call out the lie and, if they’re right, the opposer loses a life;
  • Take the initial roll and accept it as theirs without looking.

Scoring is done by attaching the numbers on the die sides. For instance, in a general game, if you throw both die on 6, you’ll get 6+6 = 12. In Meyer, you just attach the digits and form a 66.

The person who has the most significant score and still has lives left wins in the end.

19.  Vikings and chess?

Vikings and chess

No, there is no evidence that Northerners ever played chess. Although the version of chess we are playing today has its origins in Asia, India to be precise, two very similar strategic board games exist in the Viking portfolio.


It has multiple boards, segmented into small zones.

How can you recognize it?

The 15 pieces are moved by the fates dictated by the dice with three sides. They can only move in a counter-clockwise sense. Each turn implies either three separate moves or a single one with three pawns.

“Captured” pawns will restart from their initial spot on the board.


Tabula should be confused with Halatafi, another popular game, similar in nature.

You can recognize it by its board, as Halatafi boards have holes where the chess squares should be. The red side and the white side, where the pieces sit, are delimited by a gap.

If you’re playing, you can move each way you like, but never backwards to a position you’ve come from. Your goal is to “take down” as many “men” as you can—the one who is left with 4 or fewer pawns losses.

British Empire forces: card games & wicked rulers

British Empire forces: card games

Around 1497, Italian navigator John Cabot mistook Canada for Asia and claimed it as a new territory for the British Crown.

Without a doubt, the British and the Empire were two of the most potent influences on Canada as we know it today, in gambling too.

Let’s explore that thought further!

20.  Elizabethan gambling influence

Even if Cabot sailed and claimed for King Henry VII, it was under Queen Elizabeth I that the Empire flourished and became forcefully homogenous. Some of the Island trends for games and bets traversed the Atlantic.

17th-century settlers in Canada most likely enjoyed to play and bet on others while playing:

  • Backgammon;
  • One & Thirty (An old version of modern-day Blackjack);
  • Craps;
  • Archery.

Another well-documented activity that was popular was watching and betting on blood sports. Animals were kept in wooden rings and tormented with other smaller domesticated ones, like dogs. The goal was to incite a bloody fight, hence the name.

21.  Games of chance – an illicit activity

Although never respected fully, or sometimes outright ignored, there was a law called The Unlawful Games Act of 1541. It forbade games of chance, as they were thought to be a distraction to soldiers especially.

Even so, the Monarch and the State’s attitude towards gambling changed when Queen Elizabeth allowed the first public lottery to take place in the Empire to raise money for naval and harbour repair. It started in 1566 and went on until the project was terminated in 1569.

It did not work as typical lottery draws work today, however!

From 1566 to 1569, tickets were sold without a clear winner awarded. Then, in the last year of the timeframe, prizes were awarded. The conclusion was that almost all participants got their money’s worth. As far as historical sources say, any British citizen could participate; this includes the Crown’s Canadian representatives.

Basically, Elizabeth’s draw worked like a loan from the citizens to the State’s needs.

Fun fact:

  1. Later on, middlemen called “brokers” handled the tickets between the State and the players. This is the beginning of modern-day stockbrokers. Stocks were part of a full ticket, as few could afford a full one.
  2. British loyalists partially financed even the British-American War through lotto-like raffles.

22.  Everyone loves to gamble

Everyone loves to gamble

The British Isle has always been a friend of gambling activity. From Antiquity up to the Middle Ages, and later on to contemporary times. As sources say, the Middle Ages showed a general positivity towards gambling.

The differences stand in the stakes

Even if people of all statuses gambled, not everyone had the same view on it. The high society gambled on large sums of money, estates, jewelry, etc. We do not have data on other classes, but their general income could not have made it possible to have high roller bets.

There is also a difference in game preferences.

Upper class Middle class and lower

Animal fights, animal races, chess, card games

Dice, craps

Fun fact: Under King Richard of England, only nobility could bet within certain limits of money. One of his successors, King Richard II, also disallowed games Monday to Saturday.

23.  Whist or Trumping your adversaries

Whist or Trumping your adversaries

In the 16th century, a game emerged in the British Empire that took over the gambling scene at the time. Over the course of 100 years, it became the star. We now know it as Whist.

It is a game played by multiple persons, one of them being the dealer. In some variations, to maximize the randomness, a “dummy” hand is allowed. It is supposed to mimic another player, but the cards are dealt face up since there is no one there.

Tips: In some cases, this gives you a particular advantage, as you can partially eliminate what cards have already been dealt with you and the dummy hand.

A team can receive “honours” in an upbeat variant, which are extra points received when the dealer gives them a high valued court card, like Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces.

24.  Law changes towards gambling

There was never a consensus with the Monarchs over time. The challenges came from political, religious, and economic views.

The more pious people wanted to impose restrictions on luck-based games. Monarchs who needed to funds wars and projects allowed them liberally.

To each its own!

25.  That time when games were banned

That time when games were banned

Under his reign, Richard III banned all card and dice games.

Evidence shows that even if he had a noble background, he was not so fond of betting or anything similar. However, we do not know for sure what pushed him to do so. Some argue that he perceived the activity as a dangerous distraction.

But as we’ve said, more progressive Monarchs understood the value of a pastime and the Crown’s monetary gain when people participated in raffles, bets, races, and all the other similar times.

Colonial Canadian gambling – Dependent on the British Crown?

Colonial Canadian gambling and British Crown?

A short overview

When the European settlers made their way into the Northern part of the American continent, they fought for land and its goods. This meant bloodshed, war, negotiation, and other parts of history.

It is not our intent to look too deeply into the general history, but we need to jot down a timeline regarding gambling legislation.

Read all about it in this section!

26.  Three major gambling eras

As Canada evolved and became the nation we know and love today, so did the attitude and legal framework for games of chance.

We can distinguish three periods.

Colonial gambling

From John Cabot’s arrival up to 1867, chaos prevailed when it came to internal affairs. Indigenous people were protecting their land, and settlers wanted to dominate them.

At this time, gambling was a matter of preference on both sides, things we already covered.

During this time, a combination of British and French ways of thinking was found in the Quebec Act (1774), which disallowed gambling in unregulated houses.

Confederation & modern gambling

This is the period historians classify between 1867 and 1969. We delve into more details about this period, its trends and influences more on this page.

Post-1970’s gambling

We are currently living in this era of gambling. Resorts, hotels, First Nation’s institutions and tons of online casino sites emerge. For a curated selection of online casinos, we are here to help. We take big names in the industry and analyze them as experts, but play and evaluate as a group of passionate players; that’s how you know that our reviews are accurate and helpful.

Kingdom of France’s noble gaming profile

France's noble gaming profile

As we all know, Canada’s duality is made up of both the British influence and the French one, in similar amounts.

Gambling was not excluded from this area of influence.

This section will guide through the most well-known games and events that stood the test of time or cast consequences up to the present.

27.  Rouge et Noir: Red and Black

Rouge et Noir: Red and Black

This game has virtually disappeared in the US and Canada, but it is still thriving in Monaco’s glamourous casinos.

It is a combination of Roulette since there is a unique table with two rows for the two colours and card games since bets are used by placing cards on the table.

There are two dealers on each side and one “Observer”. Almost all high society members and soldiers from the 17th and 18th century knew how to play and bet on this game with an estimated 98% return. This includes the white Canadian gentry.

28. The Queen card: A French invention

The Queen card: A French invention

France has many records when it comes to gambling and card playing. Besides having the oldest gambling houses on its territory, France has made feminist progress in the cards by adding the Queen character on it.

Initially, Marseille-inspired card decks had a King and a Nobleman as second and third to the Ace.

Fun fact: Mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal invented the Roulette wheel prototype that was used to get closer to an object perpetually moving.

29. The Templars and “21” or Blackjack

The game of “21”, Blackajck or Vingt-Et-Un, has many names and is widely known and played to this day.

The legend says that the very well preserved and kept society of The Knights Templar invented a version that has remained somewhat unchanged since today.

Fun fact: Because this was a commonplace game in Western Europe and North America, funny pronunciations like Van John (from the UK) emerged in player’s slang.

Suppose you have ever come across the name “Pontoon” from old-time texts. In that case, you should know that this was Blackjack’s designation, especially in the Great War (WWI) by Canadians as well. In writing, it appeared after the 1760s in France’s Académie des Jeux and after the 1800s in a card manual called “Hoyle”.

30. Catholic France vs Gambling

Catholic France vs Gambling

Even though The Hexagon has been prolific in inventing, playing, and popularizing casino games, the view on these matters was primarily harsh and disapproving. Along the years of the Middle Ages to Modern Times, several leaders outlawed the matter:

  • It first started in 1254 with Saint Louis;
  • It was picked up again by Charles IV in 1319;
  • The same goes for his successor Charles V in 1369;
  • It also happened in 1560 for Charles IX;
  • Finally, the same decision was reinforced by Henry III in 1577.

However, well-known historical figures saw the potential in allowing state-run games too.

Cardinal Mazarin opted for a lottery raffle meant to raise money for a modern bridge over the Seine, which would have faced the Palais Louvre in Paris.

Fun fact:

  1. The first French organized lottery was in celebration of Louis XIV’s wedding.
  2. When gambling was disallowed in France, games took place in embassies or Ambassador residences since they have immunity and are considered foreign territory within a state.

31.  An overview of 18th-century French influence

The most notable French influence of the 18th century that also arrived in Canada was the French people’s everlasting passion for playing card games.

No matter the class or religion, all facets of society accepted this as a usual way of spending time in others’ company.

Between 1720 to 1770, many games and gambling houses started, making their way in artistic creations like plays and novels. The decks of the time illustrated the King and Queen that were then reigning. France’s neighbours and colonies, Canada included, also picked up the habit.

32. Poker: a passion from history to online

Poker from history to online

When it comes to French game inventions that have become popular in Canada, we cannot miss talking about Poker.

Sources are conflicting when it comes to the game’s origins. If some argue that the United States’ Western movements developed it, some say that an ancient version was born in France.

Even in today’s highly modernized world, France does not allow all games of chance to be played online, as they have a highly addictive nature. However, Poker also requires mathematical skills and good short-term memory. Thus, it is allowed now in France, offline and online.

33. Charles Deville Wells: the Monaco legend

Iconic people over time have been passionate about (or even consumed by) games of chance. The urban legends and the gossip made their way to the “New World”.

This is how we got a hold of the story of Charles Deville Wells. He is, without a doubt, one of the luckiest gamblers the world has ever seen.

In 1891, he played 30 full games at the Roulette table and won 23 of them. This is a staggering number, as the story goes that every time he would lose a bet, he would double down on the next one. The sum he left the casino with is today’s equivalent of approximately 6 million CAD.

Undoubtedly, Canadian Roulette fanatics at the time were keen on trying their luck the same way that Charles did in Monaco.

34. Canada and France similarities

While in France, the current-day national raffles are authorized based on a law from 1993, Canada’s provincial and federal ones date back to the late 70s.

There are some similarities, however!

Legal and taxed horse races gained a lot of traction in the 19th century in both states. In fact, there are still in fashion to this day. The way the jockeys compete on the track resembles the way spectators battle in high fashion in the front seats.

Also, Baccarat, the bank game, is allowed in both countries in brick-and-mortar casinos.

While Canadian players can enjoy Baccarat online on licensed casinos, you can only engage in these games if you visit a physical casino in France.

35. Boule: a kid’s wonder and a grown-up favourite

A small wooden wheel painted in lots of colours was all the heat two centuries ago, in France, Canada, and even the UK and the US.

There are 9 slots on the wheel, and the “boule” is a wooden ball that is thrown in to see where it lands.

Each colour and number is identified as a “winning horse,” which is the reason why this game is also called “Les Petits Chevaux,” which means “The little horses”.

You can bet on the colour, the odd or even numbers, or groups of numbers, very similar to Roulette.

1800s & 1900s – two thriving gambling centuries

Even if we have already been through many historical times, Canadian gambling, as the multi-billion industry that it is today, has its bases in the past two centuries.

Naturally, we need to give these two hundred years special attention and show you the times between the starts of Canada and your home today.

36.  A legal overview

Legal overview

The past couple of centuries showed us important changes in how the laws accepted or denied Canadian citizens access to gamble games.

Let’s browse a historical timeline together!

1867 Constitution allowed the 1892 ban

In Canada’s fundamental Law, rights to exercise legality were given to governing forces elected by the people. The first one was a straight ban on all luck games, the 1892 moment.

1900: Bingo exception

At the turn of the 20th century, an executive amendment was passed that allowed local organizations to host Bingo games with the sole purpose of putting the money to good use for those in need.

1910: Legal horse betting emerges

If bingo was the first casino game that was allowed, bets on the outcome of horse races were accepted by the leaders of that time.

1925: Fair fun

After the first World War, gambling was allowed only on special occasions marked by town fairs, usually celebrating a holiday.

1969: Off the lottery, we go

As we said many times already, organizing a nationwide raffle is an easy and ingenious way to save money for needed tasks. In such a way, Canada could shine internationally in the Summer Olympics hosted in Montreal.

1985: To each province, its own

Let’s not forget the federal nature of this nation. In the mid-80s, authorities decided to allow each province to govern the way gambling is done locally. There’s nobody who knows better than the locals!

37.  A total ban and a push to charity

In 1892, Canadian authorities set a ban on all forms of casino play and sports betting, except for horse racing. The decision mainly was religiously motivated.

Even so, no less than 8 years later, folks were allowed to partake in bingo games organized for charitable purposes.

What can we derive from this shift?

The need to bet is high among Canadian people. Not all participants want to win big necessarily, as we’ve seen them willing to play for a noble cause. But the thrill is unmatchable. And so, in 1900, it was put to use for the greater good of the community.

Fun fact: The maximum bet allowed in Church organized games could not exceed C$50.

38.  Betting in the shadows

Even if legally, people were not allowed to stake cash and goods, illegal games in “unregulated” gaming houses were taking place all throughout the post-Cabot times.

The top three activities historians derived were:

  • Card games (both luck-based and skill-based games);
  • Cockfights;
  • Horse races.

39.  Faro: a forgotten gem

Faro a forgotten gem

We, as people of the 21st century, have forgotten the craze surrounding this game. However, it was really en vogue in the 19th century in North America, under the still powerful European influence.

Banned in Europe and the colonies multiple times due to being the cause of many bankruptcy cases, illegal gaming houses were still hosting days-long games. The story has a dark side, as a few professional saloon gamblers in Mississippi were killed because of the public outrage against the game.

Canada’s relations with Faro were more peaceful by comparison, but many lives were ruined in the glory times.

40.  Turn of the century changes

Between the last years of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century, many essential gambling moments took place.

Let’s review them together!

  • Pre-1900 horse races became the rave of the rich and famous. At first, things were in the gray area, as there were no clear rules and no specific legislation on what bets are allowed.
  • In 1910, the federal government intervened. It allowed the type of bet called “Pari-mutuel”. The money paid by the losers is divided to the winners, the jockeys, and the state as tax.
  • In 1925, events that involved races were allowed as shows in fairs and exhibitions.

41.  A Liberal lobby

The law that accepts gambling (as long as it’s regulated) is an amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code passed after the 1969 win of the Liberal Party. They lobbied and passed the liberalization of gambling under Pierre Trudeau (the Prime Minister of the time).

The first endeavours were provincial lotteries!

Again Manitoba was the first to do so and establish its own raffle centre in 1971. In 1974, three other places followed their example: Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.

42.   Combined forces

For many sociological and economic reasons, provinces with a smaller population unite their forces and affairs with others. The same scenario happened for the following places:

  • Newfoundland;
  • Prince Edward Island;
  • Nova Scotia;
  • New Brunswick.

They all report to the same institution called The Atlantic Lottery.

43.  The appearance of commercial casinos

The appearance of Commercial casinos

The winning province in the race for organized commercial casinos was Manitoba. In 1989, in the city of Winnipeg, the first casino with slot machines, video lottery terminals, video poker machines, and other typical entertainment options was opened.

Montreal soon followed in 1993 with a place of their own.

Fun fact: Lotteries conducted through physical tickets or VLTs bring millions of CAD to the provinces’ tax collectors yearly.

44.  An ideal to reality: Great Canada Gaming

Proponents of casinos, both from Ingenious groups and other ethnicities, have been fighting for a secure environment to play.

This became a reality with a sub-part of the Canadian government, Great Canadian Gaming. It currently holds 25 centres with slot machines, table games, and the large one even race tracks.

The total federal revenue derived from them was around 67% of the total budget in 2018, while a year prior, it jumped over the mark of C$1,2 billion.

Fun fact: Because of its remarkable economic growth, you can now find that the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation trades its shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange, with the trading name “GC”.

Famous American gambling influences on Canada

Famous American gambling influences

For a complete historical image, we need to talk about the Southern neighbour’s impact on the industry’s development.

Here are the main aspects

45.  Poker, King of The Gambling World

Poker is most likely a combination of many card games, from all corners of the world. But the earliest iteration of the style we know today was played in New Orleans and was called “paque”.

We can’t know for sure, but we can safely assume that it has French origins and was changed in the US into what we know now.

It spread rapidly to the South in the Civil War, then to the West with the expansion and at the same time to the North to our border.

Fun fact: In Britain, a bluffing game played with 20 cards was popular around the 1800s, and it was called Brag. It is believed that Poker, as we now know it, was influenced by it.

46.  Hidden dens, a New York influence

On the US East Coast in the 19th century, particularly in New York, the local mobsters established illegal gambling houses.

They were called “policy shops,” and they were allowed to function because the organizers, most often than not, tipped off the police.

Since the communities that were primarily engaged in this underground business were from Italian and Cuban communities, Canadian houses appeared, but few sources give us details. Sports bets on horse races were also appealing to the illegal gamblers of the time.

Gambling hot spot

During the 1700s and 1800s, many para-legal places for gaming were also established in New Orleans, Louisiana.

47.  Gambling: deviant or spiritual?

Throughout the US’s history, gambling has often been seen as a “deviant transgression” from a proper lifestyle.

But this point of view is, by its essence, exclusive of non-Judaic perspectives. As we’ve seen, the Indigenous populations of North America used luck games for more than just a fun time. It was and still is a spiritual tool with a ritualistic purpose.

A similar issue

The same problem was raised regarding tobacco, a frowned upon use that has an integral part in the First Nations’ history.

48.  Lotteries pushed towards the Revolution

Lotteries pushed towards the Revolution

In 1769, lotteries in the colonies were heavily restricted. This was just one item in the list of complaints that led to the Boston Tea Party..and the rest is history!

We have seen similar struggles in Canada and the US territories, as they were both colonies of the British Crown at the end of the 18th century.

If we take a leap in time, we can see that following the 60s, lotteries were used to raise money, very similar to Canada’s cases.

49.  The Rich Indian” false and offensive narrative

Many Native American communities from Canada and the US marketed gambling as their innate ability and activity.

Because there was (and unfortunately still is) a strong desire to whitewash the native culture, rumours started to fly around. They resulted in a stereotype that key figures from the remaining tribes are savage business people, only keen on monetary gain.

Even TIME Magazine perpetuated this idea by stating that Indigenous-run casinos negatively impact the communities they thrive in.

These were just myths, and they give an unfair bias towards the cultural deletion of ethnic groups.

Today’s First Nation’s gambling as business and pleasure

Gambling as business and pleasure

Since we have reached the current-day phase of our timeline, we must take a look at how First Nations gamble now.

This section will guide you through:

  • Remarkable legal cases;
  • Economic growth;
  • Facts to take home.

50.  Self-governing includes games?

In 1996, Canada’s Supreme Court analyzed a case under the name “R v Pamajewon” that had gambling and casinos as its main focus.

Suppose the Canadian Constitution states that “high-stakes bets” fall under the federal or local government’s governance. In that case, representatives of First Nation tribes disagree.

In what way?

They claim that games of chance are part of their cultural identity. So, suppose federal authorities allow them to organize hunting and fishing activities as they did for thousands of years. In that case, they should give the same pass for games.

How did it end?

The court did not allow it. It motivated that self-governing is permitted under certain limitations created in the Constitution.

51.  Aboriginal gaming industry now

Aboriginal gaming industry now

Extensive casino operations started existing about three decades ago. The most engaged provinces are:

  • British Columbia;
  • Manitoba;
  • Alberta;
  • Ontario (which also hosts two complete charity casinos);
  • Nova Scotia (focused mostly on lottery machines, also called VLTs).

At the end of each year, their gross revenue always surpasses 1 billion CAD. Most of the money derived after tax is invested back in the local communities and their most pressing needs.

From a general perspective, First Nations’ representatives have a positive approach to these businesses, mainly because it creates jobs and brings money back to the workforce and their families.

52.  How many Indigenous people gamble?

How many Indigenous people gamble?

We’ve talked extensively about how Native people work in these casinos and resorts. But how many of them participate in the games as active clients?

  • Between 51% and 74% of them gamble at least once a month;
  • Less than that, from 14% to 50% gamble once a week or more often.

What games are in the top preferences?

Bingo tops the charts, followed closely by slot machines and VLTs.

Fun fact: One unique feature of Native gambling is the development of “riverboat casinos”, a phenomenon that extends from Canada to the Southern US.

Comments on Canada’s current booming casino industry

We’ve reached the present day with our timeline. But, as the team from Casinobonusca has covered, the industry is now growing exponentially.

We will take you through the most important facts, so you can leave with a clear image.

53.  Changes in the Criminal Code

From Confederation Times to now, definitions of what is illegal when gambling changed. For instance, the term “bet” was added to denote any time of money-related stake, and “betting house” now represents the old “unlawful gaming houses.”

Things that were deemed unorderly and outlawed were added over the years: making bets, organizing bets, keeping animal fight pits, organizing low races, etc.

Even in this climate, after the 30s and up to the end of the 60s decade, many pro-gambling bills, mainly related to lotteries, were pushed in the legislature by liberal-inclined representatives. Nowadays, you can read several lotto winning stories that were made possible since gambling become legal, with some players going as far as releasing strategies on how to tell a winning lottery ticket before scratching it.

Fun fact: The first racing club created was in Quebec as early as 1787, and it was called “Quebec Turf Club”.

54.  The Kahnawake Gaming Commission

In 1999, an effort was made that resulted in Canada’s first authority for licensing casinos, both brick-and-mortar businesses and now, more than ever, international online casino sites.

We have followed their work closely for years.

We have observed an increase in their care for the individual player, and of course, their health and finances. This institution was a direct result of Native efforts in collaboration with law-makers and lobbyists in the environment created by the 1982 amendment of the Constitution, which legalized luck games.

55.  The last legs of Puritan opposition

Even though games of chance have existed pre-Abot and pre-Columbus, a lot of legal opposition was made in Canada towards gambling. It extended well into the 20th century, but it slowly faded away.

In the 90s, it was almost non-existent, and many popular resorts in Ontario and Nova Scotia flourished, on a pattern similar to America’s East and West parts, New Orleans and Las Vegas to be exact.

56.  Present moment gambling stats

For a complete image, we have decided to show you how Canadian gambling looks in numbers today.

Canada’s favourite activities in percentages

Simple lottery entries Scratchcards Other casino games




Fun fact:

  1. Even though the Canadian legal age of gambling is between 18 to 19, younger adults are not so engaged in casinos and prefer online video games. 
  2. The age group with the highest participation in activities from the previous table is between 20 and 29.

With a change in age groups, we see a preference change. We summarized the finding in the next table.

+40 to 55 55 to +64


Slot machines

When it comes to millennials, their favourite casino activity seems to be Poker.

Interestingly enough, a geographical change also affects the game choices. Thus, the current situation is as follows:

  • Video Lottery Terminals are the most popular in Manitoba;
  • Atlantic provinces love bingo the most;
  • French-speaking regions are heavily into sports betting.

Ontario is the most productive province, accumulating over 40% of the national gambling revenue yearly. This is not as surprising, considering they have the largest pool of the population.

57.  Employment


If over 20 million fellow Canadians gamble, it is unsurprising that this sector generates jobs for the citizens around the gaming centers. According to data provided and updated by the Canadian Gaming Association, 135,000 people work in gambling jobs full time.

The numbers don’t lie.

The revenue derived from their income alone is summed up to over C$15 billion.

58.  A gender overview + other exciting stats

In our area of expertise, online gambling, men make up 57% of the pool of customers, and women make up the remaining 43%.

The preferred device to use for both main groups is still the smartphone.

Even if internal revenues are huge and have attained billions already, offshore online casinos are still so very profitable just from Canadian players alone.

Canadian invest in these platforms more than their neighbours from the US and a bit more than UK players from the foreign stats.

Fun fact: In terms of popularity, horse races have declined drastically over the years, making up just a little over 3% of the bets made. Around the same sum, we’ll find activities in “card rooms”.

59.  Your living quarters change your gaming budget

There seems to be a connection between the way an everyday Canadian adult lives and how much they are willing to spend on casino games, offline or online.

What do we mean by that?

If someone lives with their family, partner, or roommates, they will spend less on gambling. If they live alone and are not currently romantically engaged, they spend more on their hobby. Even in this context, men spend more, over C$800 on average in a year, while for women, the average is over C$500.

Did you know that men are also more likely to work for casinos?

Yes, 51% of the personnel is male. 25 years ago, just 32% were males.

60.  A national data centre

You might be wondering who collects most of the data used by casino experts like us.

The answer lies in the Canadian Gaming Association, an institution under the federal government that manages and analyzes the Canadian casino industry’s impact.

As they define their work, the casino world impacts the market demands and trends, the preferences that players and investors have alike, and social change and evolution.

Periodically, they comment on the business overview through their annual summit and Canadian Gaming Business magazine. Meanwhile, you can reach them via their Twitter handle @CanadianGaming.

61.  What have we learned from 2020?

What have we learned from 2020?

The steady, impressive increase of the casino industry had a positive, upwards incline in the previous year. It should come as no surprise, then, that the interest of young people such as science students developing online casinos as entrepreneurs is on the rise.

Things are slowly gaining traction in the job sector, and the number is still over 130,000. The mean sum of the revenue sits comfortably at C$9 billion.

We can also safely assert that online casinos are just as popular as ever, considering our own inside data.

We can only hope that the future is bright for all parts!

Our closing notes on Canada’s gambling timeline

Canada's gambling timeline

We’ve reached the end of the Canadian gambling timeline. Together, we have gone through more than 4000 years of history, starting from the oldest games we know from the 2000s BC and ending in 2021 AD.

We hope you have gained insight from us and are more aware that our taste for gambling is not a new invention or a vice. The truth is humanity has always loved to gamble and challenge Chance to see if it smiles upon them!

We, the team behind Casinobonusca, want to help you stay healthy, happy and safe when you play your games and have fun!

Always be gamble aware!

The sources we have consulted: