A 2011 study conducted by the Canadian Gaming Association found that legalised gambling in Canada generates around $16billion in revenue for the country every year, with $8.7billion going directly to the government, charity initiatives and community programmes in 2010 alone. As a result, gambling is now the largest single financial contributor to Canada's entertainment sector, and a key part of the country's wider hospitality industry. However, despite its obvious popularity and economic importance, gambling hasn't always had an easy ride in the USA's friendly northern neighbour.
Gambling didn't get off to a good start in the early days of the Canadian Commonwealth, with the 1892 Criminal Code bringing in a total ban on all forms of gambling, with the exception of "off-track" horseracing betting. A number of additional exceptions were eventually introduced, though, with individual provinces gradually given the power to create their own state lotteries.
The laws were amended even further in 1985, with a major change allowing provincially-licensed premises to offer computerised slot games and other video-based gambling machines. This provincial approach to gambling regulation has created a number of anomalies in Canada's gambling laws, with the legal status of betting on certain games and events varying from province to province - New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, are still resisting the rise of casino-style gaming.
The legality of online gambling is an even more confused area, with the current Criminal Code still making it illegal for online operators to accept wagers or create betting platforms if they are not licensed by the state. There is no law specifically preventing users from placing a bet, though, meaning that millions of Canadian citizens are able to access a range of international online casinos or online bookmakers, with an extremely low risk of prosecution.
As with the majority of Western audiences, online gamblers in Canada favour the usual mixture of traditional casino games, including blackjack, slots and roulette. Players have also started to pick up the poker bug from across the border in the US, and the country has produced a number of leading poker pros over the past few years, including WSOP winner Daniel Negreanu, and $8.9million Main Event champion Jonathan Duhamel.
Canada also has a strong Canadian Football League (CFL) following, with online sports bookmakers including bet365 beginning to offer smaller CFL markets alongside their regular NFL options.
While the CFL and sports like lacrosse manage to bring in an impressive number of viewers each week, nothing attracts Canadian gamblers quite like ice hockey. The coveted Stanley Cup playoff competition manages to draw millions of dollars’ worth of wagers every year, with the unpredictable nature of the tournament captivating viewers across the country. The most popular subject for hockey betting is undoubtedly the National Hockey League (NHL), which brings together 23 American and seven Canadian teams for a thrilling and competitive season. There are numerous NHL betting markets available at online bookmakers such as Paddy Power, with its popularity amongst the online gambling community fuelling the demand for additional markets such as total goals, 60-minute money line, and the increasingly popular Asian handicap.
At the time of writing, single-event sports betting isn’t actually legal in Canada, with punters restricted by law to betting on a minimum of three different games at a time, otherwise known as "parlay betting" (accumulator betting). This age-old law has failed to move with the times - indeed, a recent report on gambling habits in Las Vegas found that an overwhelming 92% of all sports bets there were placed on single events. While this form of land betting is technically still illegal, that hasn't stopped the vast majority of online gambling sites from offering single-event betting markets, leading some to question whether a change in the law is needed.
The answer to this issue seems to be the controversial "Bill C-290", which is currently making its way through the Canadian Senate. This Bill would legalise single-event sports betting throughout Canada, although it is experiencing some heavy resistance from a number of senior politicians and sporting leagues. Until the laws are changed, then, Canadians looking for gambling flexibility will have to stick to online casinos, or make the jaunt across the border to the sparkling lights of Las Vegas.