Online casinos in Canada: a primer

embracing this activity has been rapidly increasing for the past few years, and Canadian users are no exception. The market penetration of online gambling in Canada is growing quickly and is not poised to stop any time soon. We’ll explore this in more depth in this article, as well as the legality of online local and offshore casinos.

What is online gambling?

Online gambling refers to the act of gambling online. This might sound obvious, but that’s not the whole story. Players in Canada often have access to two different kinds of online casino operators: government regulated and offshore gambling sites. Online gambling is legal in Canada as long as the casino site is not based in Canada. It is legal to gamble on an online site if it is operated by an overseas company. If the site is based in Canada, it must be owned and operated by the Canadian government or licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

From 2014 to 2015, commercial gambling (excluding horse racing) generated roughly $3bn (CAD), according to the Government of BC website. This money was used to provide ‘key services’ to Canadians, including meeting education initiatives and healthcare, with the greatest amount going to non-profit community organizations

Offshore gambling operators are operators that, as the name suggests, operate offshore. These casinos are not licensed in Canada, but rather are regulated by overseas entities such as the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA). The MGA is the most prolific and well-respected offshore regulator and ensures that offshore casinos operate fairly without predatory policies for their players. Offshore casinos are just as legal in Canada as provincial (province-run) operators, but they come with their own quirks and rules that players should research before diving into online gambling. 

Current Canadian gambling statistics

According to Statistics Canada, a government-run resource, more than 50% of Canadians aged 15+ reported gambling in 2017 (according to 2018 statistics). The population with the highest player numbers was the age group 45 to 64 years, with 76% of men and 68% of women reporting gambling. These numbers are a bit higher than they are in online gambling, where numbers are expected to reach nearly 20% of Canadians by 2027. In 2023, the revenue of online gambling in Canada topped $300m (USD), with growth of nearly 10%.

As you can see, online gambling is a bit less popular than physical casino gambling. However, it is also more difficult to measure online gambling users in the country. While federal and provincial-approved online operators can accurately record the number of users, offshore gambling websites typically don’t provide that information. Because of this, the figures described in this section are likely lower than the actual numbers of online gamblers in the country. That being said, they are still good estimates, and it’s worth understanding the overall legal market penetration. 

The history of online gambling in Canada

The history of gambling in Canada is a long and winding one. Online gambling is a relatively newer concept but is no less complex. Now that we understand the two major types of online gambling operators, let’s look at the legality of each of them in Canadian law. As you read through this section, remember that Canada is a large country and the laws might be different in your province, so make sure to always double-check before playing.

In general, and by default, gambling is illegal in Canada. This means that only businesses approved by the government can operate brick-and-mortar casinos in the country, with provincial governments having the most authority on the subject. The same is not true of offshore online gambling. As long as the websites in question are not run on Canadian soil and the operators are not attempting to provide ‘official’ services as though they’re government-approved, online casinos are generally legal in the country. Offshore gambling websites are legal in Canada unless specifically outlawed by provincial or territorial lawmakers.

Online local operators approved at both federal and provincial levels are newer to the market than physical casinos, which have been building in number for decades. There are only a few legal Canada-based online operators in the county, which leads many users to seek options with more expansive gaming selections outside of their local market. Instead of sticking to operators fully licensed by the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), in other words, they often opt to try their hand at international online gambling establishments providing services to Canadian players. 

Are offshore gambling websites safe?

One of the most common questions we see is about the safety of offshore gambling websites. In general, it is a good idea to pay attention to the regulator of the casino in question as well as its specified terms of use, which lay out the way that the casino accepts bets, pays out winnings, and operates its promotions and bonuses. With that said, most offshore operators are safe. They are typically just as regulated as Canadian-based providers and offer a wider selection of games and game categories. Slots are especially limited in online operators approved by the Canadian government, so players who enjoy this type of gaming are sometimes disappointed by the lack of options.

The best way to determine the safety of specific online offshore operators is to look for casinos run by well-respected regulators such as the MGA (mentioned above). This is not the only reputable regulator, of course, but it is one of the largest around. You should also look at a trustworthy casino aggregator website, such as Play Casinos, that is dedicated to providing Canadian players with the most reputable online casinos on the web.

What do you think about the growth of online gambling in Canada? The industry is poised to grow even quicker in the near future. While offshore gambling remains one of the best methods for online casino operators in the country, as the market share increases, it is possible that Canada will license additional providers at the federal and provincial levels, making it easier for Canadian gamblers to find the perfect provider for their needs. Until then, you can enjoy one of the many reputable and safe offshore providers for all your internet-based gambling needs.