Where is Online Casino Gambling Headed in Canada?

By Ben Hamill - August 24 2015

Almost 20 years ago Internet Casinos Inc. launched the first online casino in Canada. Today, there are an estimated 2000 online gaming websites which offer a wide assortment of gambling opportunities which include casino games, bingo, poker, sports betting and other options.

In 1994 Internet Casinos Inc. established the first casino which featured a few basic games of roulette, blackjack and poker. The demand quickly grew and within a few years there were dozens of online casino sites offering everything from lotteries to slot machines. Today there are more than 2,000 gambling websites which operate in Canada. They offer a wide array of gaming opportunities which, in addition to casino games, include sports betting, bingo, poker tournaments, progressive jackpots and other activities. Canada has joined Europe, Australia, Asia and South America in creating a welcoming atmosphere for online gaming.

Casino operators and players alike wonder where the industry is headed. Merrill Lynch conducted a study in 2006 which suggested that the online gambling industry would be expected to peak in 2015 with an annual revenue of $528 billion dollars.

Their conclusions were based on an examination of the demographics of online casino players. Studies show that Canadian gamblers are more than three fourths male. They’re by large an educated with group with an average household income of $74 600. At the same time they have an average household debt of roughly the same amount, leading anti-gambling advocates to point out that gambling is more than entertainment and the losses involve much more than disposable income.

Worldwide, most gamers are over 45 but in Canada the age of the majority of gamers is lower than that. Canadian players are Internet savvy and they use the Internet more often, and for more purposes, than gamers who play at brick-and-mortar casinos.

Legalities of Canadian Online Gambling

The Canadian government didn’t allow online gambling sites to operate in Canada until 2009 but gamers continued to play at offshore sites. Since the Canadian Criminal Code doesn’t regard online gambling as an illegal activity, the government turned a blind eye to this type of casino activity and the number of active online casino sites operating in Canada has expanded. Today, there are two online gambling venues for Canadians.

  1. Gambling in Canada is governed by the provincial governments and each of these provinces permits, licenses and regulates its own online gambling sites. These Lottery and Gaming Commissions run the lotteries and other gambling activities in their respective provinces.

British Columbia was the first province to open an online casino to its residents. It did so in 2010 through the British Columbia Lottery Corporation. The BC online casino was followed shortly thereafter by Loto-Quebec which introduced online casino games, including poker, to Quebec residents. In 2013 online casino activities began to be regulated in Manitoba. All three of these provincial gambling sites joined with the Canadian Poker network so that gamers could play simultaneously at the same online tables. The latest provincial gaming authority to go online is the Atlantic Lottery which opened an online site in 2014 with multiple gaming options for residents of the Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick,Prince Edward Island,Newfoundland and Labrador.

The online options continue to grow in Canada, due to growing demand. Most provincial gambling authorities intend to have a fuller itinerary of online games available to their province’s residents in the near future.

  1. Many players gamble at international gambling websites which encompass players from around the world. These sites continue to operate from offshore locations and offer top games for both PC and mobile gamers. They are regulated by the International eCommerce and Online Gambling Regulation and Assurance Agency which monitors online casino sites to ensure that the casinos follow fair and safe gaming practices.

Mobile Gaming

The Merrill Lynch report, which projected that online gaming would peak in 2015, seemed to offer an accurate assessment of the industry, but when mobile gaming began to take hold in Canada, the projections became obsolete. First, casinos interfaced with featurephone but that was quickly usurped by the smartphone revolution which proved to be the perfect device for the gaming platform. The online casino was able to support mobile gaming easily, first through WiFi connectivity and then by adding cellular connectivity to the options for easy connection. Today almost every new game that comes onto the market is mobile-enabled and most of the old favourites, such as parlour games and card games have been adapted for mobile entertainment.

There are, however, some other gambling-related events in Canada which are not as positive for the industry as the introduction of mobile gambling.

Youth and Gambling

Today, young people in Canada are gambling more. The studies that have determined this increase are not related to young adults but, rather, to children. The Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission released a study entitled “Youth Gambling in Alberta: The Alberta Youth Experience Survey.” The study determined that between 41% to 78% of 7th to 12th graders in Alberta to as many as 78% in Manitoba are partaking in gambling activities.

A second study, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation's “Decoding Risk: Gambling Attitudes and Behaviours Amongst Youth in Nova Scotia” showed that 19% of youth between the ages of 15 to 17 have tried gambling online.

Online Gambling’s Future in Canada

Canada’s online gambling industry continues to grow and produce strong revenues. The question now is whether the national government, or even the provincial governments, will regulate the industry. Regulation via non-governmental organizations is also an option, Observers believe that collaboration between the provinces will spur momentum and will draw more offshore and onshore providers to Canada. In addition, the Canadian online gambling market may soon begin to attract companies managing land-based casinos in the United States. But formally legalizing online gaming in Canada will not be accomplished without a fierce debate and opposition from businesses whose economic interests could be threatened by liberalization. The question is, whether there’s enough interest in upsetting the apple cart to promote such an agenda. Most observers agree that, as of now, it’s unlikely.