The iGaming State of Play in Canada


The iGaming State of Play in Canada

10 December 2019

In just two decades the iGaming industry has become one of the fastest-growing and profitable global industries. Expected to reach just under $103 billion by the year 2025, the industry is very much here to stay and attitudes to iGaming activities and, more importantly, legislation are beginning to change.

What is iGaming?

iGaming is an umbrella term that is applied to real money gaming and wagering activities carried out on the Internet. This includes things like playing slots or casino games on a casino platform, taking part in online poker tournaments, placing bets on sports or major events through online bookmakers, and participating in bingo, lotteries and competitions.

Casino gaming in some form or another has been around for centuries, but iGaming has only recently come to prominence in the 21st Century. The emergence of the digital era, along with a surge of interest in online activities thanks to industry phenomenons like ‘The Moneymaker Effect’, has generated exponential growth for this now powerful market.

Over the past 12 months, the iGaming landscape in the US has transformed considerably. Landmark events have included the prolific growth of sports betting across the newly regulated states, and the launch of Pennsylvania’s first online poker platform, in the form of PokerStars’ new website.

So, how does Canada’s online casino and poker industry compare to the industry in the neighbouring US? To answer that, we need to look at Canada’s relationship with real money gaming and wagering activities.

Canada’s history with real money gaming

Up until the late 1960s, it was largely illegal to take part in real money gaming and wagering activities in Canadian territory. In 1969, however, the federal government granted each of the 10 provinces that make up the territory to hold their own lotteries, which has since proven to be an effective way of funding local projects.

Then, in 1985 the government made the decision to pass control of all casino gaming, sports betting and real money competitions to the individual provinces. Confusingly, even though each region has since been able to govern the laws on these practices, the federal criminal code of Canada didn’t change its stance on real money gaming.

As the 1990s got underway and people began to take a greater interest in video games and online activities, Antigua and Barbuda passed the Free Trade & Processing Act, which allowed organisations to apply for (and be granted) licences to open online casino platforms.

The first fully-fledged online casino was launched in 1996, but it would take Canada almost two decades to catch up. The first fully legislated Canadian online casino was launched in British Columbia in 2012. Although the site offers the whole spectrum of casino and poker games, it only does so to residents of the State. Customers from any of Canada’s 9 other provinces aren’t permitted access.

iGaming in the present

Since then, there have been no further major developments in the landscape of Canadian online casinos and poker rooms. Despite each province being granted the jurisdiction to control real money gaming within their borders, very few – if any – online platforms have successfully begun to operate.

Ironically, the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation, which since 1996 has controlled the Kahnawake Gaming Commissions and offers gaming licenses to online operators, is located at the border of Montreal.

This doesn’t mean, however, that iGaming isn’t popular with Canadians – far from it. Like many inhabitants of North America and other restricted territories, Canadian players can register and play in offshore online casinos, which are registered and located in countries like Great Britain and Malta.

Is there a future for iGaming in Canada?

At the moment, the federal government in Canada seems reluctant to take the same steps that have led to iGaming activities becoming legal once again in US states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey. What’s impossible to ignore, however, are the potential benefits that such a lucrative industry could bring to the economy.

There is a demand for iGaming among Canadian residents, so naturally, there are also strong arguments for the widespread regulation and legalization of the industry. It may not happen until the next decade is well underway, but industry experts are hoping that Canada will eventually embrace the industry as the UK and major territories in Europe have done, and properly regulate online real money gaming activities within its borders.