Reviewing the Current Online Gambling Laws in British Columbia, CA 2023
In Canada, gambling laws are mandated on a bilateral platform. On the highest level, the federal government determines what does and does not constitute gambling. The duty of legalizing and regulating gambling activities, however, is left to the discretion of each province and territory.
In short, if a province/territory does not choose to regulate the activity, then gambling remains illegal by default within its borders. Such jurisdiction does not extend outside one’s borders. Thus, without express prohibition, online gambling on websites outside of Canada is not illegal.
British Columbia was the first Canadian province to plunge into online gambling. It did so with the 2004 launch of PlayNow.com, a provincially-owned and government-regulated iGaming site. This alone tells us that online gambling is legal in B.C. Canada. International gambling sites are not prohibited, therefore they are also legal in The Pacific Province.
We’ll discuss how we (and so many real, professional legal experts) come to this conclusion in the following text.
Brief History of Legalized Gambling in BC Canada
In British Columbia, gambling has been legal for decades, in one form or another. In 1974, BC teamed up with Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan to form the Western Canada Lottery Corporation (WCLC), following a 1969 amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada that gave provinces the right to authorize “lottery schemes”.
Then in 1985, BC gained independence from the WCLC, developing its own British Columbia Lottery Corp (BCLC). One year later, they began introducing national and provincial lottery games, as well as the first pull tabs.
BC Online Lottery in 1986? Hmm…
Word around the cyber-cooler is that B.C. made history by offering the world’s very first online lottery game in 1986. While it’s true that an archaic form of the internet did existback then, there’s virtually no evidence to support the claim. We find mention of it on a number of iGaming websites, but nowhere else. BCLC’s own timeline of existence fails to mention this, as well.
If anyone can prove its existence, or shed light on where the theory came from, please contact us! We’d be very interested to know more about it.
Getting back to the fact, BC held its first Keno draw in 1995, expanding further into slot machines in 1997. It’s pretty clear at this point that BC’s populace has a very liberal mindset when it comes to gambling. The next two decades on the timeline continue much the same, seeing exponential growth in its casino gambling industry.
The Move to Gamlbing Online
Perhaps the most significant move was the launch of PlayNow.com in 2004. PlayNow was the first provincially-authorized and regulated gambling website in Canada. For six years, it played host to BCLC’s lottery, peddling number-draw and instant-win tickets.
In 2010, BCLC paved another new road in the history of iGaming. Another PlayNow expansion brought online casino games to the website, marking the first jurisdiction in all of North America to launch a locally licensed and regulated online casino. With notably less fanfare, online poker was added in 2011. The original sports lottery (parlay-style betting) also saw an expansion in 2012, in which BCLC incorporated live betting and futures.
Fast forward to 2018, BCLC partnered with world-renowned live casino supplier Evolution Gaming to bring live dealer table games to PlayNow. To ensure all local regulations were met, Evolution was invited to open a live studio in Vancouver, BC.
Single-Event Sports Betting Revolution
All of Canada swooned in February 2020 with the introduction of a promising measure to legalize single-event sports betting. It came from Sask. MP Kevin Waugh, who tabled Bill C-218, The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act. It passed with flying colors in 2021. Amending the Criminal Code, it permits wagers on single outcomes, thereby doing away with the age-old limitations of parlay-style betting.
British Columbia was beyond ready for the passage of that bill. It had already enacted legislation that would legalize single-event bets in BC the very moment Bill C-218 went into effect. In preparation, BCLC contracted software suppliers and odds aggregators, setting up a sports betting platform that would be ready to go live at the press of a button.
The button was pressed on August 27, 2021, bringing single-event online sports betting to BC’s PlayNow the very day Canada enacted the new law.
Online Gambling Laws in British Columbia
We know that online gambling is legal in BC. As the above timeline portrays, the adult (19+) population has access to casino, poker, sports, and lottery games on the BCLC’s provincial iGaming website. However, the laws of BC are what you might call narrow-sighted.
They don’t deal specifically with what is and is not illegal. That part is mandated by the Criminal Code of Canada. BC laws deal specifically with the province’s regulated activities, and who’s able to conduct them.
As for local online gambling services, the BCLC is the only authorized agency capable of conducting online gambling. The laws that legislate this are found here:
7 (1) The lottery corporation is responsible for the conduct and management of gaming on behalf of the government and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing,
BCLC is in charge of all regulated gambling activities in British Columbia, online or otherwise.
(a) may develop, undertake, organize, conduct, manage and operate provincial gaming on behalf of the government, either alone or in conjunction with the government of another province,
BCLC can conduct any legal form of online gambling and may work in tandem with any other Canadian province to do so. Example: BCLC aligned with Manitoba to permit residents of both provinces to access BC’s PlayNow.com.
(d) subject to first receiving the written approval of the minister, may enter into the business of supplying any person with operational services, computer software, tickets or any other technology, equipment or supplies related to the conduct of
gaming in or out of British Columbia, or
any other business related to gaming,
This section gives BC the potential to align with online gambling operators located outside of British Columbia, and potentially outside of Canada. Theoretically, with the government’s approval, BC could begin licencing operators of offshore gambling sites, mimicking the UK’s enormously successful iGaming market.
(i) must monitor compliance by gaming services providers with this Act, the regulations and the rules of the lottery corporation…
As for any gambling activity that is not regulated by BCLC, (i.e. offshore gambling websites), we must turn to the Criminal Code of Canada. The federal government’s legal interpretations relating to gambling, in general, are found here:
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)
Bet means a wager on sports betting, horse race betting, or any other athletic competitions of skill.
Game means a game of chance or mixed chance and skill; (jeu)
Game refers to all games of chances, with or without a combined element of skill (i.e. slots, blackjack, roulette, and other casino games).
Gaming equipment means anything that is or may be used for the purpose of playing games or for betting; (matériel de jeu)
A computer or server used to conduct online gambling may fall under this definition.
As for the expressly illegal gambling…
The Criminal Code defines illegal gambling activities here:
(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;
Unregulated online ‘betting‘ services are illegal. Note, however, that ‘game‘ is not mentioned. Therefore an unauthorized online sportsbook accepting Canadians might be illegal, but not an online casino.
(g) imports or brings into Canada any information or writing that is intended or is likely to promote or be of use in gambling, book-making, pool-selling or betting on a horse-race, fight, game or sport, and where this paragraph applies it is immaterial
It is illegal to promote gambling services to Canada without provincial authorization. So long as an international operator isn’t specifically targeting promotions to Canadians, it is not violating this law.
(h) advertises, prints, publishes, exhibits, posts up, or otherwise gives notice of any offer, invitation or inducement to bet on, to guess or to foretell the result of a contest, or a result of or contingency relating to any contest;
Same as above.
What Does it All Mean?
Like most regions of Canada, BC falls into a ‘grey area‘ of the law when it comes to online gambling at offshore websites. Yes, BC does offer a wide-sweeping gambling portal for adults physically located in the province, and we strongly encourage you to use it. After all, the money lost on that website goes back into the economy and helps fund important community programs. However, there’s a whole wide world of iGaming that exists beyond Canadian soil.
For those who want more variety, different games, variable odds, insightful promotions, etc., etc… the international market can be quite tempting. So we ask, are offshore gambling sites legal in British Columbia? Are international operators breaking any laws by accepting Canadian players? More importantly, are Canadians breaking any laws by gambling on these websites? In short, what gambling sites are and/or are not legal in British Columbia, Canada?
Key Takeaways & Conclusions
Based on the bevy of legislation detailed above, we can draw these keynotes from the online gambling laws of BC and Canada.
It is perfectly legal to play at BC’s own PlayNow.com website, provided you are age 19+ and physically located within British Columbia (or Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where PlayNow services are extended to).
It is not illegal to play at online casinos located outside of Canada.
Most international casinos comply with the general gambling laws of BC and Canada. There are a few requirements to fit into that category; (hence the delineation of “most international casinos”). So long as they 1) do not accept underage bettors; 2) the games are audited for fairness; 3) the operator has no physical presence (offices, servers, etc.) on Canadian soil; and 4) does not specifically promote their services in/to Canada, then they are not breaking any laws by accepting Canadian players.
If any online casino fails to meet these ‘legal‘ requirements, and accepts Canadians anyway, only the operatoris subject to potential penalties. Players who gamble on such websites are not breaking any laws.
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 online gambling laws in British Columbia. For precise clarification of the law, 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.