Educated Gamer’s Informational Guide to Online Gambling Laws Ontario
Gambling is one of the most historically famous pastimes in the world. When the great Venetian explorer John Cabot arrived here in 1497, he discovered the natives participating in various gambling games. During colonization, British soldiers were known to be avid gamblers, despite King Richard III having outlawed the activity in the 14th century, especially among troops. In his eyes, gambling was merely a distraction from the greater goal.
In 1867, when Canada became a self-governing nation, lawmakers adopted similar prohibitions. The Criminal Code of 1892 formally banned all gambling. That slowly changed over the next century, to the point that Ontario now regulates almost all wagering activities, including lottery, bingo, casino, poker and sports betting.
In furthering these legal adaptations, the province launched its own online gambling website in January 2015. It was enough to attract a notable margin of Ontario’s gambling community. Over the next 7 years, amendments made it possible to launch the much larger, competitive iGaming market Ontario hosts today.
The purpose of this page is to answer any questions you may have regarding current gambling laws in Ontario; particularly those referring to online gambling.
Is Online Gambling Legal in Ontario?
Yes, it’s plainly clear that gambling is legal (for anyone age 19+). There are many casinos and race tracks, lottery and Pro-Line retailers all over the province. We also know that online gambling is legal, because Ontario hosts its own iGaming market, including the provincial gambling website at OLG.ca.
There’s one area of the law that remains a mystery to many Ontarians, and that’s whether it’s legal or illegal to use online gambling sites regulated outside of Canada.Provincial laws clearly state that Canadian-based gaming sites must be regulated in their local province, and that it’s only legal for players from that province to access those websites. But what about international online casinos that aren’t licensed in Ontario? Can Canadians legally play at these sites?
In the following sections, we’ll talk about how provincial and federal laws impact the legalities surrounding offshore gaming and Ontario’s locally regulated market.
Online Gambling Laws Ontario – The Federal Level
At the surface, gambling is a federal matter. The Criminal Code determines that all gambling is illegal unless authorized by a province or territory. Even then, Canada decides who can authorize and regulate gambling.Let’s take a quick look at relevant gaming laws found in the Criminal Code.
Bet means a bet that is placed on any contingency or event that is to take place in or out of Canada, and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, includes a bet that is placed on any contingency relating to a horse-race, fight, match or sporting event that is to take place in or out of Canada; (pari)
A “bet” is a wager on any skillful competition, such as sporting events and horse racing. Chance may be an element, but skill dominates in these contests.
Game means a game of chance or mixed chance and skill; (jeu)
A “game” is a gambling activity where chance dominates the outcome, with or without any element of skill. This includes all casino games like slot machines, blackjack, video poker, etc.
207 (1) Notwithstanding any of the provisions of this Part relating to gaming and betting,
it is lawful…
(a) for the government of a province, either alone or in conjunction with the government of another province, to conduct and manage a lottery scheme in that province, or in that and the other province, in accordance with any law enacted by the legislature of that province;
Ontario is capable regulating any form of gambling (“lottery scheme”) defined by the Criminal Code. It must provide regulatory management of all authorized gambling. Legislation may be passed to address specific regulatory guidelines.
That last line of CC Section 207 – “…in accordance with any law enacted by the legislature of that province;” – is crucial. It is this statement upon which Ontario’s lawmakers based their right to authorize a competitive iGaming market. Ontario adopted special legislation in 2021 to establish a Registrar to oversee this market and to provide rules for the submission and approval of applications for licenses from private operators to participate in it.
The “Registrar” is the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). The AGCO oversees the application process and handles all major responsibilities for the market. A secondary agency, iGaming Ontario (iGO), is in charge of day to day management of the AGCO’s registered iGaming suppliers.
OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation), iGaming Ontario, Operators, and gaming-related suppliers are required to comply with the GCA andRegulation 78/12. Specifically, Sections3.8and3.9of the GCA require registrants, employees and other persons retained by OLG and iGaming Ontario to comply with the Standards and Requirements established by the Registrar. The GCA provides the Registrar with the authority to establish Standards and Requirements for the conduct, management and operation of gaming sites, lottery schemes or businesses related to a gaming site or a lottery scheme or for related goods or services.
Ontario’s AGCO is at the top of the chain in the regulation of online gambling websites. AGCO is responsible for scription the Standards that govern the market. iGO is next in line, ensuring that all registered gambling sites abide by the Standards set forth by AGCO.
In other words, AGCO defines Ontario’s online gambling laws and iGO enforces them.
Ontario’s most current version of theGaming Control Act 1992really isn’t worth quoting. Everything within this document deals with “gaming sites” (online or on land) that are “registered” with and “licensed” by the Registrar. Any “gaming site” not registered/licensed falls under the jurisdiction of the Criminal Code of Canada.
That being said, we could assume that any online gambling site that’s not authorized by Ontario must be illegal, simple because the Criminal Code says all unauthorized gambling is illegal. However, that’s not the case.
The Criminal Code of Canada only pursues entities within its jurisdiction; more accurately, those that operate illegally within its jurisdiction. A gambling website that operates from offices and/or on servers that exist on Canadian soil would be within its jurisdiction. One that has no physical presence in Canada, however, would be outside its jurisdiction.
What Does It All Mean?
There’s a big difference between being perceptive about the laws of online gambling, and knowing from which perspective to judge them. Gambling laws are a federal matter, not provincial. Ontario merely chooses which forms of gambling they wish to locally authorize and regulate.This means that Ontario can decide what operations are permissible, and which ones are illegal, within its borders. However, only the Canadian government can decide what’s legal and illegal outside of Ontario. And unless an online gambling operation is physically located somewhere within the confines of Canada, even the federal government has no jurisdiction over it.
To put it simply, internationally regulated gambling operators are not breaking any laws by accepting Canadian players. This is the stance our nation’sgaming law expertshave taken. In their expert opinions, no online gambling laws Ontario applies will affect that. Unless the federal government amends the Constitution or starts taking international operators to court for accepting Canadian players, that’s not going to change.
Final Thoughts – Domestic vs. International iGaming in 2023
In the years leading up to 2022, we avidly recommended online gambling with international operators. Not all of them, mind you, but a select few of the most reputable brands. While we still support these decades old diamonds of the global iGaming industry, Ontario has made great strides to provide its citizens with a safe, regulated, and highly competitive market.
As of June 2023, Ontario’s home-grown market is an impressive one worthy of praise. It encompasses more than 70 online casino, sportsbook, and poker websites. Its operators follow strict regulatory guidelines to provide a safe, secure and fair gaming atmosphere. Player protections are at the forefront of every iGO-licensed website. Suffice it to say, Ontario is finally giving the people what they always wanted – the freedom of choice, with the assurance of local authority.
Disclaimer: Please note that we are not lawyers, and are not qualified or attempting to offer legal advice. The following is our personal interpretation of current legislation. For precise clarification of the laws in Ontario and/or Canada, please contact an attorney or local authorities.
Adalene Lucas: is our jack of all trades here at DBC. She is a skilled coder, gambler, writer and webmaster. She lives in Manitoba where she enjoys the lush landscapes and camping near Tulabi Falls. Nature gives her inspiration to write. When she's not immersed in nature, her favorite words are "game theory". She lives with her husband and their two Labradors, Kophy and Whisper.