Canada has established itself as a major player in the gambling sector but in a country of ten provinces and three territories across five regions, each with unique degrees of autonomy, it can be problematic to discuss Canada’s performance in the sector as one entity. The Canadian gambling market was valued at $12.54 billion US in 2021 – how was that divided across the country?

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Gambling in Canada by Region

Like the situation in the US – especially following the recent overturning of the PASPA act – the Canadian government largely allows provinces (and territories to a lesser extent) to legislate as they see fit in regards to their own stance on gambling.

The age at which you can gamble varies between provinces. In Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta you must be 18 but in the remaining provinces the age is 19. To enter a casino in Ontario you must be 19 but you are able to play scratch cards at 18.

Unless gambling is your profession, Canadians do not need to pay taxes on their winnings. Compare this to the US where any sizable win is tax deductible. If you happen to win $1,200 or more from a bingo or slot machine, $1,500 or more from a game of keno or $5,000 or more from a poker tournament, the establishment will fill out a W-2G Form and you are liable to pay 24% of your takings to the IRS.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, home to Toronto and the capital Ottawa, took the landmark decision to regulate online casinos on home soil in April of 2022. Prior to this move, and as is still the case in much of the country, operating an online casino domestically was technically illegal.

Canadian gamers could still legally gamble online but all operators that they visit would have to be based offshore. The scope of the internet proves that legislating against gambling doesn’t stop gambling itself – it just ensures people take their betting practices elsewhere – to websites based outside of the country.

By refusing to regulate online gambling, governments are not only forgoing crucial capital that can be spent on public sector services – including the support for gamblers themselves, they are encouraging citizens to spend money at sites that may not be licensed. When the industry is regulated rather than outlawed, data is available to governments to help detect if there are members of the public with gambling problems so help can be provided where necessary.

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Sports betting is also enjoying a period of growth. Canada’s Federal Criminal Code was amended in August 2021 to allow betting on individual sporting events. In and of itself the move might not seem revolutionary but combined with Ontario’s recent licensing scheme, Canadian sportsbooks could now compete unfettered with international operators – before, only parlay betting could be provided.

And many provinces have followed suit. On September 1 2021, Alberta became the eighth province to offer single sports betting to coincide with the launch of Play Alberta, the region’s only gambling platform. There were plans to offer two additional private operators to run by the end of 2022 but the identity of them and plans to achieve this have been delayed.

Most Canadian provinces and territories allow regulated gaming through the government’s own affiliated sites, but Ontario became the first to open up to private operators, which could then be vetted and licensed accordingly. Initially 13 Canadian and international brands signed up to the opportunity and report to Ontario iGaming which is a division of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).

The Future of Gambling in Canada

It is unclear whether other provinces will follow Ontario’s lead and adopt more progressive legislation surrounding gambling. One thing is for sure is that many eyes are now on the Loyalist Province to see how their decision will impact government revenue – but all initial indications seem positive.

The gambling sector also represents a major employer for Canadians. It is often thought the move towards online betting meant a severe cut in the workforce required but IT development and maintenance of these sites provide employment to skilled labour.

When online sites are not regulated, these job opportunities are handed over to the foreign countries that host the online casinos that are most popular. And just because online gambling is becoming more successful does not mean casinos and land-based sports books are closing their doors.

A move toward reforming gambling legislation is likely to provide Candians with increased cashflow as well as thousands of new jobs.

Canada’s approximate $12.5 billion US revenue from gambling enterprises represents around 0.6% of the nation’s GDP putting it among the top twenty most lucrative industries and is an important part of the country’s economic prosperity.

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