Gambling is said to be a business older than written history. While there is no way to verify this claim, there’s evidence pointing to the construction of the Great Wall of China being funded at least in part through state-run lotteries – and that happened over 2,000 years ago. Canada’s history of gambling is much shorter yet it still starts before the first European settlers set foot on the land. In short, it’s an odyssey that spans from stick game to online slots; this is Canada’s gambling history.
Nowadays, we’re of course familiar with famous Canadian poker players, like Daniel Negreanu, Mike McDonald, 2010 WSOP Main Event Champion Jonathan Duhamel, among countless others. It’s quite possible that those players’ respective histories might be quite different if they had not been allowed to gamble in the Great White North. So, perhaps, in order to gain a fuller appreciation of Canada’s poker players and thriving gambling industry of today, it pays to look at the country’s long history of association with gambling.
Before the first Europeans brought their games to Canada, the native tribes used to engage in stick gambling, and it was a lot different from the fast-paced way we gamble today. These games could last for days at a time, as they played for stakes such as gunpowder and tobacco, among others. These traditional forms of gambling have been preserved as a cultural heritage to this day, with the Yukon Territory First Nations in Canada holding Stick Gambling Tournaments to keep the tradition going.
The next widespread form of gambling in Canada gained its popularity during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 19th century. By that time, card games, in general, were pretty widespread, thanks to the settlers bringing their cards and games with them to the new land. But “Faro” was perhaps the most popular card game at the time. It was a bit like a mix of blackjack, baccarat, and other similar casino games with a fast pace and considerable payouts. Later, it was unseated by poker.
And BOY do Canadians love their poker. Oh Canada, indeed! Just to illustrate the point, while still way behind the U.S., Canada proudly occupies the runner-up spot on the list of WSOP bracelets won by country.
Anyhow, back to the late 19th century. It was the time when Canada’s first Criminal Code was enacted. Based on the similar legal framework from Britain, it did tolerate some forms of gambling under certain conditions. Later amendments introduced pari-mutuel (pool) betting, certain forms of gambling for charity, and during special events like agricultural festivals. These laws remained mostly unchanged between the 1910s and the 1970s. Then, a new round of amendments gave provinces the right to regulate gambling and license gambling operators. Almost two decades later, the first Canadian casino opened in Winnipeg, followed by another one in Montréal, and many others.
Today, gambling is mostly a state monopoly in Canada, with the provincial lottery and gaming corporations (Crown corporations) being the only ones allowed to “conduct and manage” gambling activities within their borders. They are also the ones that can operate poker rooms and sports betting operations, both online and in real life. Several lotteries – like Loto Quebec, the BCLC, and the OLG – have launched their own online casino and poker services to compete with their offshore counterparts, and perhaps some others will decide to do the same in the near future.
While the interview below from the good folks over at CalvinAyre.com is now a couple years old, it reflects the current state of online gambling in Canada; namely that Canadian citizens have nothing to worry about when they choose to ante up online.