The Legal Status of Online Poker in Canada

The game of poker has been on something of a rollercoaster ride over the past two decades; from the highs of the early 2000s “Poker Boom” and Chris Moneymaker’s win at the world series to the lows of “Black Friday” and the introduction of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in the United States, the situation been every bit as suspenseful and dramatic as your average final table showdown.

Many of the people participating in online poker today got into the game after seeing it played on television or watching a live game taking place at their local casino. As a result, it’s unsurprising that many of these new players are not completely up to speed on the finer nuances of local and provincial gaming law. Unfortunately for Canadian players, participating in online gambling in their country is subject to one of the most complicated legal frameworks found anywhere in the developed world. If you want to open a business in Canada in this field, you will need legal support from experienced lawyers.

Online Gambling in Canada

The Canadian Federal Criminal Code sets out the wider Canadian law concerning online gambling. This code essentially bans all kinds of betting anywhere within the country but gives an exception where a lower-level government has regulated the sector within their jurisdiction. This is a similar situation to the one now being adopted in the United States, following the repeal of PASPA by the Supreme Court.

There are some minor exceptions to the rules set out in the code, but these are not applicable to the game of poker. Whenever a province seeks to legalize online gambling, they are responsible for setting up a local regulator to oversee the provision of the service and stop ad fatigue. These authorities are often known as Lottery Corporations; for example, the regulator for British Columbia is known as the British Columbia Lottery Corporation. 

The Lottery Corporations are only responsible for iGaming – any land-based casinos operating within the same province are regulated by a different authority. The task often falls to a gaming commission, such as Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission (AGCO). The AGCO, in turn, is responsible for registering new businesses and individuals for control under the local Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

Poker Regulation in Canada

Playing online poker Canada is not regulated on a federal level and is instead controlled and supervised by local governments at the provincial level. Because of this, simply moving house from one part of Canada to another can often be enough to have a dramatic effect on the rules and regulations that you are subject to. Whilst some provinces have had poker regulation in place for more than a decade, others still prohibit gambling in its entirety – both online and otherwise.

Despite the complex legal situation, the gambling industry in Canada still generates more than $9 billion annually – an impressive figure, given the countries size and the relatively young age of the industry. As a result, Canada is widely regarded as one of the largest markets for online poker anywhere in the world. The country is even home to many of the most well-known names in the game, such as Daniel Negreanu, Jonathan Duhamel, and Sam Greenwood. 

The History of Online Poker in Canada

If you like to keep on top of the worldwide poker news, you will already be aware that Canada is one of the world’s biggest markets for online poker. Daniel Negreanu is arguably the most well-known Canadian poker player, having won tens of millions of dollars in tournaments – but how did we get here?

The history in Canada begins all the way back in 1995, when two Canadian Brothers set up one of the very first online gambling companies named CryptoLogic. At that time, the only competition in the market came from Microgaming, a European-based business with similar aspirations of creating an online betting industry.

Just a year later, CryptoLogic acquired their first licensee in the now defunct InterCasino. CryptoLogic created the gaming software, payment processing systems, and even provided customer support services. This “white label” package was so attractive that it wasn’t long before many more online poker rooms set up shop.

The next major milestone came later in 1996, when the Kahnawake Gaming Commission was established just outside of Montreal. The commission aimed to give legitimacy to the burgeoning new industry by licensing and regulating online card rooms, as well as casinos and other internet gambling sites. This regulator is still in operation today and is now responsible for licensing over 250 gambling websites.

Fast forward to 2010, and British Columbia became the first Canadian province to offer government-sanctioned online poker via the internet. The same year, Jonathan Duhamel made history when he became the first Canadian poker player to win the Main Event at a world series event. Duhamel beat more than 7,300 players to win the prestigious tournament.

Wrapping Up

Canadian gamblers would surely benefit from a widespread overhaul of the country’s complex gambling law, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a prospect of that happening any time soon. In the meantime, make sure you brush up on local laws and regulations before playing a card game online.

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