14 Aug

Legal Constraints of Internet Gambling in Manitoba, Canada

What Canadian Law Books Say about Manitoba Online Gambling in 2023

A number of Canadian provinces authorize their own government-run iGaming portals. Manitoba was among the earliest, entering into a network-sharing agreement to piggyback off British Columbia’s PlayNow gambling website in 2012/13. So we know that, in some capacity, online gambling is legal in Manitoba.

What about the countless online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker rooms operating from overseas? Is PlayNow Manitoba the only legal option, or are offshore gambling sites legal as well? We aim to answer that question today.

Spoiler Alert!

Offshore gambling sites are not illegal in Manitoba. Read on to learn more…

Manitoba iGaming Shrouded in “Grey Area” of Law

Manitoba Online Gambling LawsCanada’s internet gambling laws are often misconstrued by the projected views of each provincial government. Some provinces have given the impression—if not outright stated—that gambling on an international website is illegal. However, the law books don’t seem to agree.

There are several reasons why Manitoba (and other provinces and territories of Canada) falls into what professional gambling analysts consider a ‘grey area‘ of the law. For one, these laws are mandated on multiple levels. First by the federal government, then by the corresponding laws of each province. Separating the hierarchy of laws tends to muddle both the definitions and jurisdictional responsibilities.

Furthermore, when legal definitions are unclear, it takes a legal dispute in the court system to provoke clarification. In Canada, legal challenges of this nature are incredibly rare, but…

…It Did Happen Once

Only one case has ever been tried in Canada revolving around an illegal online casino. That company, Starnet Communications International, was found guilty of illegal gambling in 2001 by the BC Supreme Court. However, the only reason that operation was deemed illegal was because it had a physical presence in Canada.

Starnet was licenced in the Caribbean Island of Barbuda, not in any province or territory of Canada, and it maintained an office building in Vancouver, B.C. Thus, the courts concluded (setting a legal precedent) that an unauthorized online casino cannot have a physical presence in Canada, and accept Canadian customers. That is most definitely an illegal combination.

As for the plethora of Manitoba-facing online casinos that don’t have offices in the Great White North, they certainly don’t seem to be breaking any laws. Hundreds of legitimate gambling websites under foreign regulation have been accepting Canadians for years. Provinces have shown grave concern for economic loss and player protection, but they initiate no legal opposition.

What Federal and Provincial Governments Have to Say

A brief recap before we move on… We’ve established that Manitoba has legal online gambling. And we know that offshore gambling sites are not being challenged by federal or provincial courts, which leads us to assume offshore gambling sites are legal in Manitoba as well.

In these next two sections, we’re going to look at the current legislation as it pertains to gambling activities; specifically, to online gambling activities, where available. We’ll start at the top with Canada’s federal laws.

Gambling – Criminal Code of Canada

According to the Criminal Code, all forms of gambling are illegal unless authorized by a particular province or territory. The federal government defines various forms of gambling, and what constitutes illegal gambling, in lieu of authorization.

As per the Criminal Code, Part VII, Disorderly Houses, Gaming and Betting:

197 (1) In this Part,Meaning
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 applies to all athletic competitions of skill, such as sports betting, pari-mutuel horse racing, etc.
Game means a game of chance or mixed chance and skill; (jeu)
A game is any gambling contest that relies mostly, or entirely, on chance. All casino games fall into this category (slot machines, blackjack, baccarat, roulette, etc.)

Defining Illegal Gambling in Canada

These next excerpts revolve around what is illegal, and who may be penalized for the criminal nature of such activities. They are taken from the Criminal Code, Part VII, Section 202, Betting, Pool-Selling, Book-Making, etc.

202 (1) Every one commits an offence whoMeaning
(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;
This section applies to operators, and deals specifically with ‘betting‘. It could feasibly be construed that anyone who places a sports bet online with an offshore operator is “engaging in book-making”. This should not apply to placing a wager on a ‘game‘ at 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
This section deals with the promotion of all forms of gambling. An unauthorized gambling operator cannot specifically promote service in Canada, or to Canadians.
(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.

Manitoba Online Gambling Laws

Next, we’ll look at the other dominant factor – the internet gambling laws in Manitoba, Canada. The Liquor, Gaming, and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba (LGCA) regulates all gaming activities. Likewise, The Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act (Part 2) contains all of the regulatory guidelines for gaming activities in the province.

The Act delineates a lot of information. It defines all gaming that is authorized and regulated in Manitoba. It then goes on to detail proper licencing procedures, limitations of operators, suppliers, and employees, reporting and record keeping requirements, etc.

What it does not do is address any unauthorized activities (e.g. the unauthorized gambling sites that accept Minotoban players from their overseas websites). Why does it fail to address this? Because it is outside of Manitoban jurisdiction. Those websites would inherently fall under the jurisdiction of the Canadian federal government, which directs provincial governments to determine what to authorize.

BC Shares the Stage with Manitoba

There is one item of interest in Manitoba’s gambling regulations. Under Part 2, Section 9, Agreements with other jurisdictions, the Act states:

With the approval of the minister, the authority may enter into agreements with the government of a province or territory, or an agency of that government, respecting the regulation of liquor, gaming, cannabis or horse racing.

This is important because Manitoba did just that in 2012. The government entered into an agreement with British Columbia that allows Manitobans to participate at Playnow.com, the provincially regulated online gambling website of the BC Lottery Corp. Per that agreement, PlayNow Manitoba went live in January 2013.

What Does it All Mean?

As I said earlier, Manitoba—all of Canada, for that matter—falls into a grey area of the law when it comes to online gambling. There are a few key elements in the laws above that we can piece together to come to some pretty clear conclusions.

  1. Online gambling is not illegal in Manitoba. Residents age 19+ can play legally at BCLC’s Playnow.com. (Learn more about British Columbia online gambling laws.)
  2. Manitoba laws rely on Canada’s Criminal Code to determine what constitutes illegal gambling. Canadian law does not expressly prohibit players from accessing international online casinos.
  3. Offshore casino operators are violating the law only if they have a physical presence in Canada, and/or specifically promote their service in Canada. Otherwise, Canada has no jurisdiction over them.
  4. No player, or operator, has ever been prosecuted for illegal online gambling in Manitoba. This is most likely due to jurisdictional restraints. A provincial government cannot go after a company that is operating legally within its own jurisdiction when that jurisdiction is outside of Canada.
Drawing the Ostensible Conclusion

Some politicians have made clear their desire to criminalize gambling sites that accept Canadian players without local authorization, but again, it’s never happened to an operator that properly skirts the legislative rules. It’s safe to assume they don’t even try because it would only be a waste of time and money.

The general consensus, in and outside of Canada, is that an online bet (or any exchange of service or money) takes place at the location of the server. Not the location of the client or service provider, but the server that handles the transmission of that data. Thus, if the server is not in Canada, and the operator has no other physical presence in Canada, then it is not breaking any laws by accepting wagers from players in Manitoba (or any other part of the country, for that matter).

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

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