31 Jul

Online Gambling in Saskatchewan, by the Law Books

Saskatchewan Online Gambling Laws: What you can and can’t (legally) do.

Online gambling laws can be a tricky thing, especially here in Canada. In Saskatchewan, the legal climate surrounding internet gambling has become less cloudy in recent years. Locals finally have access to a home-grown iGaming centre to place wagers online. However, residents are not restricted to provincially authorized gambling. There’s still an enormous market of offshore websites to consider.

The way the legal system works – split across federal and provincial levels – is contributing to confusion surrounding what is and isn’t permissible. You see, the legality of gambling is defined by the Criminal Code of Canada. That piece of legislation defines different forms of gambling and determines that they are all illegal. Cut and dry, gambling is illegal in Canada, unless a provincial government chooses to authorize specific forms of gambling.

Provincial lawmakers, like those in Saskatchewan, only have so much rope to work with when legislating gambling laws. They can define what they wish to authorize and regulate. They can then write laws as to how to regulate, and who is in charge of regulation. Those regulators can provide licences to appropriate gambling services. The province can also impose punishments against any gambling operator that does business in the province without a licence.

Saskatchewan Online Gambling LawsWhat they cannot do is create penalties for any gambling business that operates from outside the province. That is out of their jurisdiction, and left in the hands of the federal government. In the case of online gambling sites located offshore, they are not breaking any existing Canadian laws. Therefore, in lieu of any constitutional amendments, these operations have not been deemed illegal.

Let’s take a closer look at relative laws.

What the Criminal Code says about Canada Online Gambling Laws

Unfortunately, the Criminal Code doesn’t say much at all. It doesn’t reference the internet whatsoever, due to the antiquated nature of the laws. What it does do is define the different forms of gambling, and how provinces can authorize them.

Part VII, Disorderly Houses, Gaming and Betting

197 (1) In this Part,
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 refers to any wager on an event where skill is the dominant factor, such as sports betting and pari-mutuel racing.
Game means a game of chance or mixed chance and skill; (jeu)A game refers to any form gambling in which chance (luck), is the dominant factor, regardless of a lesser element of skill. These include all casino games (slot machines, blackjack, video poker, etc).
202 (1) Every one commits an offence who,
(e) engages in book-making or pool-selling, or in the business or occupation of betting, or makes any agreement for the purchase or sale of betting or gaming privileges, or for the purchase or sale of information that is intended to assist in book-making, pool-selling or betting;It is illegal to operate a gambling business in Canada, unless the operation has a licence from the province in which it is located.
207 (1) …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;Saskatchewan has the right to authorize any form of gambling (“lottery scheme”) it sees fit, and may enter into agreements with other provinces to conduct gambling jointly (such as the current agreement to share online gambling services between BC and Manitoba).

Saskatchewan Online Gambling Laws

Up until recently, lottery was the only form of online gambling authorized in Saskatchewan. Decades of stagnation in provincial gaming laws ended with Canada’s authorization of single-event sports betting. This move spurred the government to rethink their limitations. Saskatchewan Gaming Corp (SaskGaming) was given the go ahead to explore expansion into sports betting, as well as other major gaming verticals.

In June 2020, SaskGaming teamed with the British Columbia Lottery Corp (BCLC) to launch a new SK-facing branch off its existing PlayNow.com iGaming platform. Operated by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA), PlayNow Saskatchewan went live on November 3, 2022. It is open to all adults physically located in the province, and features online lottery, casino, sports, poker and bingo games.

As part of the legislative agreement to expand online gambling regulation, SIGA was granted 5 years exclusivity in Saskatchewan. Once that time expires, the province will have the option to expand into a competitive iGaming market, much like the one hosted in Ontario now.

What Does It All Mean? Is Online Gambling Legal in Saskatchewan?

Absolutely! Online gambling is both legal and thriving in Saskatchewan. The provincial online gaming service is 100% legal and locally regulated. But locals are not necessarily restricted to gambling on the PlayNow-SK website or mobile app. International gambling websites (online casino, poker, bingo, sports, etc.), although not expressly legal, are not illegal either.

Saskatchewan, like other Canadian provinces, falls into what we call a ‘grey area‘ of the law. It’s not expressly legal, nor is it definably illegal. And if it’s not illegal, there’s no penalty for it. So, it’s effectively legal.

The only way to deem online gambling illegal in Saskatchewan would be for the federal government to amend the constitution, or to press criminal charges against an offshore online gambling operation, thereby opening a window for the high courts to reinterpret existing laws. In the two decades online gambling has existed, neither has happened.

Physical Presence Required to Press Charges

There was a single case in 2001 in which an operator was brought up on charges. That operator, Starnet Communications International, was deemed illegal by BC Courts. Not due to Canadain player acceptance, because it had a “physical presence” in Canada. The operator was based and licenced in Antigua, but held a separate office in Vancouver.

Long story short, Canadian and Saskatchewan online gambling laws do not prohibit online gambling with offshore sites, therefore it is not illegal. So long as the operator of the gambling website has no physical presence in Canada, no breach of law is taking place by accepting players from this province. Until Canada challenges them in the high courts, or amends the constitution, that’s not going to change.

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 Saskatchewan and/or Canada, please contact an attorney or local authorities.

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