History of Gambling in Canada

Ana-Maria Ciobanu

Casino expert

The history of gambling in Canada

Canada’s tumultuous history is worth exploring, so we invite you to witness how gambling evolved through the centuries on this land. A brief analysis will show that Canadians’ perspective on gambling has changed over the years, especially given its impact on the country’s economy.

Indigenous gambling

The first inhabitants of the Canadian land knew how to entertain themselves with games. A prime example is ‘lacrosse,’ viewed as a 12th century forerunner to hockey and still played to this day.

However, besides inventing a game that would live on for hundreds of years, Canadian-based indigenous people had a deep relation to gambling. Traditionally, games of chance served as a binding agent between different tribes.

Communities would play stick and dice games, hold running contests and engage in horse racing, either to get to know each other better or redistribute wealth.

A transformation took place in 1497. That’s when John Cabot landed on the Canadian East Coast, introducing indigenous peoples to poker, blackjack and craps.

From a mere distraction to charity gambling

Years later, during the famous gold rush from Klondike from the late 1800s, digging for the Yukon fortune was a primary occupation on Canadian soil. During that time, a card game called Faro was popular.  

charity gambling

Before gaining independence, Canada was a British colony. Therefore, it had to obey what the European rulers imposed, and their relationship with gambling wasn’t exactly a good one.

For example, in 1380, Richard III banned all dice games, including backgammon. However, gambling would still be tolerated, under certain conditions, for example if profits were used for religious or charitable purposes. You could also play at agricultural fairs and exhibitions. These developments paved the way for the legalization of gambling in modern times.

Canadian gambling legalized

While the world was being caught in the Beatlemania and going crazy over the freshly-released Star Wars movies, Canadians had some more reasons to celebrate in the 1960s and 1970s. This period represented a new start for the gambling industry.

history of gambling canada

Once the government realized how prolific the lotteries were, they decided to change gambling legislation. Following a 1969 legal adjustment, lotteries were used as platforms to fund different projects. One example is how collected funds were used for the Montreal Summer Olympic Games in 1976.

The first state to benefit from the new amendments was Quebec, establishing corporations meant to supervise horse racing.

Following its example, 4 other provinces opened regional lotteries:

  • 1971 – Manibota;
  • 1974 – Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

These 4 regions would then establish the Western Canadian Lottery Fundation.

The spread of land-based casinos

Land-based casinos today count more than 200 locations. Most were built following a new law passed in 1985, when authority over gambling activities was transferred from state level to the federal government.

Still, the oldest casino is older than this law, having been founded in 1971. Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall is located in Dawson City. Initially known as Arctic Brotherhood Hall, it was built in 1901, and still retains the atmosphere of the 1800s gold rush.

During the 1980s, more locations started to appear, such as Cash Casino, Treasure Cove, Billy Barker Casino, or Cowboys Casino. Some existed before the ’50s as well, but these were often small, illegal establishments.

In 1982, the Great Canadian Casino Company Ltd was formed, operating temporary charity casinos, with the first permanent location being inaugurated in 1986, in Vancouver.

In 1997 gaming in British Columbia would include a wider variety of table games. This is also the year when you’d be able to spend more time in a casino and even play on a slot machine for the first time!

A new turning point, the Internet

In 1991, more precisely, on the 6th of August, the World Wide Web was introduced. At this point, everything started to change and gambling wouldn’t be spared.

It didn’t take long until Microgaming appeared in 1994, which is also the year they developed the very first online casino. A year later, it was fully functional. In 1997 they founded the Interactive Gaming Council, a nonprofit organization with the mission to address issues within the iGaming community.

It didn’t take long until online platforms started to flourish. Today, players have a wide variety of gaming sites at their disposal, but the threat of scam casinos is still here. So, you shouldn’t blindly trust all of them, but only the top online casinos which prove their trustworthiness through a valid license and good conduct.  

Indigenous people and gambling today

Especially since the rise of online casinos, indigenous people started to be more engaged in this field, founding one of the the first regulating bodies in the country.

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission appeared in 1996, once the Kahnawake Gaming Law passed. This regulating body has sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Mohawk Territory, and it has licensed more than 50 online casino operators and over 250 gambling platforms.

The Assembly of First Nations intend to do their part in developing the local gambling industry, hoping to open more land-based casinos as, for now, there are around 16 locations.

It’s no secret that this industry has an impressive impact on the economy. Only In 2019, Statistics Canada indicates increased revenues, from $2.51bn to $2.65bn, between May and September. Moreover, around 45,000 Canadians are working in this field. The First Nations mark they should also be part of this in a more meaningful way, alleging the Criminal Code’s revision.

Portable casinos

The first mobile phone to access the Internet was the Nokia 9000 Communicator, but it was only with iOS and Android smartphones that mobile casinos became a reality. When Google Play was launched in 2012, the most downloaded app was Texas Hold’em.

Nowadays, when you have so many mobile casinos to choose from, and their performance rivals computers, Canadian players shouldn’t take security lightly. That’s why we thought it would be useful to pinpoint the basic steps you should make to ensure that you’re on the right app.

  1. Always check if the app you are about to download is the official one.
  2. Read relevant reviews from those who have tried it.
  3. Never underestimate what installing a fake app could do to your phone.

Land-based vs online casinos

Online casinos have transformed gambling in Canada, making it a lot more affordable, less exclusive and safer. Although historically gambling has a rich tradition here, governments have barely made it legal a few decades ago. So, people may still be reluctant to embrace new developments so rapidly. Let’s compare the pros and cons of both casino types and see what’s best for Canadian players.

online gambling

If you are a social person, you may feel like a land-based casino would satisfy your need to socialize. Still, opting for an online gambling site doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the social aspect entirely.

Live casinos will allow you to play a wide array of games in an ambience very similar to a physical location. You can interact with the dealer and other players too.

You have to be careful with your money. This is a universal fact which applies to both online and offline casinos. In fact, there’s a chance your money is safer when if you opt for the virtual alternative, as you never know what could happen once you leave the casino.

Regular customers of certain casinos are offered free food and drinks, while some reserve their special offerings to those in the VIP room. You may also get a free parking spot. That’s nice, but in many land-based venues, the best perks are reserved to high-rollers, and not all gamblers are high-rollers.

And even if you are, you’ll find that online loyalty bonuses are more accessible and varied. Without exception, Canadian VIP casinos enroll you in programs replete with free spins, exclusive tournaments and many other benefits like your own VIP assistant.

Wrapping up Canada’s gambling history

Even though, in Canada, online gambling was legalized recently, Canadian players were never prosecuted for playing online. The legal loopholes that scared away some players are now fixed, leading to more openness toward the benefits of online play.