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Canadian Sports Betting: Legalization Timeline

Learn About the Sports Betting Industry’s Journey Towards Legalization within Canada


Canadian Legalization of Sports Betting - 2022 Provincial Timeline

Sports betting has been a prevalent part of Canadian society for decades, long before the legalization of single-event betting and localized sportsbooks. These rules and regulations applied to the legalization of sports betting in Canada have shaped the industry we know today. There have been several key moments in Canadian sports betting history that featured drastic changes over time with various laws being passed, altered, or even completely removed.

In this article, we will dive into the longstanding history of Canadian sports betting, its legalization, and how it continues to work and evolve in the present day.

1892: Sports Betting is Made Illegal

In what would come to be the first major legal motion in the Canadian sports betting landscape, the Canadian government elected to have all sports gambling made illegal with the lone exception to this rule being horse racing.

For over 75 years Canada worked under these rules and regulations which were incredibly strict and restrictive to those looking to bet on the biggest sports/leagues of that time such as the NHL, CFL, NFL, and more.

1969: The Lottery System is Born

In 1969 thanks to an amendment of the Canadian Criminal Code, this allowed for both Provincial and Federal governments to run lotteries based around sports betting in which the proceeds would go towards funding various charities and causes within the country.

The lottery system in place was the first true organized legal form of sports betting that Canadians had ever seen. The tickets that were available for purchase were the early form of the Proline, a 3-6 pick parlay system where bettors could choose the winners of selected matchups. This quickly expanded over time to include point-spreads as well as OVER/UNDER wagers to be used on these tickets.

While this was a solid start the system was not perfect. One of the biggest drawbacks of this came from the maximum bet amount being set at $100 a ticket, a measure that is used as a standard betting unit in today’s modern gambling space. Another drawback to this was that bettors had no way to place a single-game bet, an issue that would continue to frustrate avid sports bettors in Canada for decades.

1985: Sports Betting is Legalized

After this change the Canadian government continued to lift restrictions, implementing more legalized and governed gambling mediums such as slot machines and video gambling, ultimately culminating in sports betting becoming legalized in 1985. This was still only pertaining to parlays, with single-game betting still a pipedream at this point in time.

These amendments formed by the Canadian government were largely influenced by the fact that sports betting and gambling as a whole was seen as a viable and profitable sector and with the right restrictions in place could help build positive results to better the country.

1996: The First Online Sportsbook Wager is Placed

While Canadian sports betting was still running through Proline, elsewhere around the globe sports betting was making humungous strides towards the future. As technology began to become more advanced, one of the most important moments in sports betting history transpired in 1996 when sportsbook Intertops, would accept the first ever online sports wager.

This wager would revolutionize sports betting around the world as online betting was shown to be possible. This gave Canadian sports bettors new avenues to pursue outside of the rules and regulations of their country, as they proceeded into grey markets.

2005: The UK Regulates Online Sportsbooks

While Intertops certainly set the stage for online sports betting, online gambling still wasn’t near the level of popularity that we see today. This would quickly change as the United Kingdom would become one of the first countries in the world to regulate legalized online sports gambling.

With easy accessibility for bettors and the freedom to bet on several different sports and leagues from around the world, UK sportsbooks and other offshore books became a safe haven for Canadian sports bettors. UK oddsmakers allowed Canadians to register and bet with their services, giving them their first opportunities at placing single-game bets, as well as online betting entirely.

This was seen as a loophole in the Canadian Criminal Code regarding the legalities of sports betting as Canadians who chose to bet with these offshore books were not breaking any laws set due to the fact these sportsbooks were not physically located in Canada. This remained outside of their jurisdiction so no actions can be taken against bettors who use sportsbooks with offshore licenses even to this day.

Canadians in large opted to bet with these offshore books for several years rather than using the Canadian-based Proline and other legally governed betting properties. In a case study, it was found that approximately $14 Billion annually was wagered by Canadians in sports gambling, with only about $500 million of that coming from government-regulated sports gambling bodies. All of this would quickly change however after a major Bill was passed by the Canadian government.

2021: Canadian Single-Game Sports Betting

In 2021 a new bill was passed referred to as Bill C-218, also known as “the Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act” which legalized regulated single-game sports betting in Canada. This meant that for the first time single-event bets could be placed legally on Canadian soil through Proline single-game betting and other authorized regional sports betting entities.

Working hand in hand with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) to help regulate this amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code, Bill C-218 would set the stage for legalized sportsbooks to enter the Ontario market.

2022: The First Legal Ontario Sportsbooks are Launched

With the passing of Bill C-218 and the efforts of the AGCO to set the framework and regulations for Ontario sports betting laws, on April 4th, 2022, Ontario launched its first legalized sports betting market.

Since this launch date, an increasing number of sportsbooks have opened within the province and have seen an incredible output in signups and active players in the province. With Ontario proving already to be a viable market, trends should continue to rise as more sportsbooks begin to enter the market.

With a viable Canadian market established in Ontario, the room for further growth within Canada in regards to sports betting will only increase from here, with other provinces such as Alberta and Quebec eager to join Ontario in opening their own regulated sportsbooks.

What is Next for Canadian Sports Betting?

Sports betting has steadily grown in popularity annually with more and more Canadians becoming involved. With Ontario setting the precedent, the next steps in Canadian sports betting will ultimately be the expansion of online sportsbooks within other provinces.

Key Facts about Betting on Sports in Canada

  • Ontario is the first (and currently only) province with legalized and regulated online sportsbooks.
  • Provinces outside of Ontario are able to place both single-game and parlay wagers by using their own respective provincially regulated betting services.
  • In Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec the legal gambling age is 18, all other provinces and territories require bettors to be 19 or older.

We have gone over the long-standing history of betting legalities within Canada, but each province has had its own unique timeline for the advancement of legalized sports gambling. Many provinces are still in the early stages of deliberation towards legalizing sports betting but talks have rapidly increased in pace since 2022.

Ontario

The first province to become open to legalized sportsbooks within the province, the country’s most populous province was the perfect starting spot for this change. Ontario now boasts a plethora of online sportsbooks for bettors to choose from and provides a more diverse betting experience for users.

Previous to the launch of their online sportsbooks, Ontario was home to Daily Fantasy Sports. This would end up being short-lived as all DFS platforms were pulled from the market ahead of the highly anticipated launch.

Ontario was one of the original seven provinces to first legalize single-game betting in the country.

Alberta

One of the biggest sports provinces in the country, Alberta is a terrific fit both in terms of size, economic stability, and population to implement the next steps towards the legalization of online sports betting.

Poised to follow in the footsteps of Ontario, Alberta is looking to make the leap in forming legalized online sportsbooks available within the province. Alberta has been deliberating on which major sportsbook will be given the green light to operate upon launch, with the potential to see the province open its doors to online sportsbooks as early as late summer/early fall of 2023.

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan operates all sports betting out of the Sports Select program but has been rapidly advancing towards the legalization of online sports betting. Currently, the only province outside of the Northern Territories not to have this capability, Saskatchewan is looking to continue to move forward with sports betting in the province but at this current time is far behind.

British Columbia (BC)

British Columbia is well on its way to initiating the next step in its online sports betting regulations. With PlayNow being the province’s only sports betting service, the hopes are that BC is moving towards changing this by legalizing online sportsbooks.

BC was one of the original seven provinces to first legalize single-game betting in the country.

Quebec

Another major player in the Canadian sports world, Quebec is progressing towards expanding its online betting capabilities. Currently only able to provide its residents with the Mise-o-jeu betting platform that is operated and run through Lotto-Quebec, with its crazed sports fans and avid sports bettors, Quebec would undoubtedly find great success with online sportsbooks becoming legalized within the province.

Quebec was one of the original seven provinces to first legalize single-game betting in the country.

Manitoba

With major city Winnipeg within its borders, Manitoba is fit to produce positive results in sports betting. In early 2022, Manitoba declared they were interested in expanding their betting market in the near future which could indicate the province’s intention to begin the legalization process for online sportsbooks within the province. Currently, Manitobans are able to place bets both in-person with Sport Select as well as online through PlayNow.

Manitoba was one of the original seven provinces to first legalize single-game betting in the country.

Maritime Provinces

While the neighbouring Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland & Labrador were a part of the seven initial provinces to legalize single-event betting, Nova Scotia was the last province/territory in Canada to finalize the new law.

With small populations and geographical size, there has been little to no interest in expanding sportsbooks to the Maritimes at this current time, but that could quickly change with the ever-evolving sports betting landscape in Canada.

Northern Territories

Unfortunately due to low population, inclement weather, and lack of resources, it is unlikely we will see the Northern Territories open their own legalized sportsbooks, with their only current local betting system coming from SportSelect. The Northern Territories are also the only areas in the country (besides Saskatchewan) where online betting options are not available. For all sports betting in the Northern Territories, bets must be placed at retail locations.


Matt Eichhorn

Matt Eichhorn

Having worked in the Sports Gambling industry since 2020, Eichhorn has expertise in all things sports betting. With experience covering various major North American sports leagues he has a wide array of knowledge to draw from when crafting his work.