There has been some confusion about the legality of online gambling pretty much since betting and gaming on the web first took off. This is partly because there is no global governing body which can state exactly what is legal or not throughout the world. Each country or region must apply its own laws as it see fit.
In many countries, the laws relating to online gambling are far from clear, precisely what leads to confusion about legality. Canada is one such country, and things are complicated even further by the fact that each province has the authority to regulate gambling within its borders.
The laws that apply to online gambling in Canada are explained below as plainly as possible. We should make it clear, however, that some of what we state is opinion rather than fact: we are not lawyers or legal experts.
Several forms of gambling have been legal in Canada since the 1970s. It was then that the country made amendments to the Criminal Code, which included allowing each province to regulate gambling on its own terms. As a direct result, many of the provincial governments began to operate lotteries, and some also approved land-based casinos and sports betting outlets.
Since the start of the Internet gambling era, a number of provinces have started to operate their own online casinos. It is perfectly legal for Canadians to play here and to purchase lottery tickets online as well. Online sports betting is also within the law, provided it is with one of the government-approved operations.
Straightforward so far, the laws are less clear when it comes to gambling online with companies not licensed by the Canadian government.
Canadian legislation explicitly makes it illegal for individuals and companies not approved by the government to provide gambling services to residents. However, the legislation does not make any direct reference as to whether it is illegal or not for residents themselves to use unapproved services. This is partly what causes confusion.
Matters are further complicated by the fact many sites based overseas welcome customers from Canada. These are licensed in the regions in which they are located, but not by the Canadian government. Therefore, it could be argued that, under the laws of Canada, they are illegal. However, it could also be argued that Canadian law does not apply.
Thus, it is effectively impossible to determine with any certainty whether it is legal for a Canadian to use a gambling site based overseas. Perhaps the best measure is the fact there does not appear to be any reports of Canadians arrested or charged for using such gambling sites.
While we are unable to say that online gambling is definitely not illegal in Canada, our interpretation of the evidence is that it is most likely not. There is certainly no law that clearly states it is illegal. As a result, our view is that you don't really need to concern yourself too much with legal issues if you live in Canada.
What we do say, however, is that you need to be selective in the sites you choose. Make sure that any site with which you sign up is properly licensed and regulated by its local jurisdiction. This way you know that the site is operating legally, and you should have no worries about any laws being broken.
For a list of reputable, licensed, gambling sites that accept Canadian customers, please take a look at this page.
It has been reported quite often that the Canadian government is investigating the possibility of making changes to its online gambling legislation. This could include introducing measures to allow for the regulation of gambling sites other than those currently approved by the government. However, it is only speculation at this stage, and there have been no formal announcements of any firm plans.