Sports betting has subtly begun to establish itself in mainstream culture. Many states in the U.S. have started to adopt contemporary gambling laws in place of the antiquated policies that have remained in place for far too long.
This situation had me thinking about our neighbors to the north.
A Rich History of Sports Betting
Betting on sports has been a tradition in Canada since long before European settlers ever trekked across the Atlantic toward a new world.
Over 600 years ago, the natives in Canada were placing bets on events like archery competitions and canoe racing. Some of the first bookies to inhabit North America were likely standing on the sidelines in anticipation of the action.
These events were encouraged to not only entertain the locals but to sharpen the skills of those competing.
While today’s pro athletes live in lavish mansions with millions in their bank account, it was indeed a matter of survival for these pioneers of sport for a show.
Many believe that the first Canadian regulations on gambling came in 1774 after Europeans colonized “The Great White North.”
However, the resident population was so scattered that many of the regulations adopted from policies in the U.K. and France remained largely ignored. Having so many residents in such remote locations made it impossible and impractical for federal authorities to enforce any sports betting laws.
So, for hundreds of years, Canadian residents could gamble and bet on sports with impunity. That all changed in 1892 and the introduction of the Canadian Criminal Code.
Suddenly gambling of all forms was illegal, and there was a staunch prohibition movement in favor of the law.
Of course, there were still many underground activities available to those that needed to get a good gambling fix. Over the last hundred years, things have become far laxer.
Betting laws in Canada began to loosen up, and law enforcement largely ignored small-time sports bettors. It was essentially mirroring the United States’ stance of turning a blind eye to the common man.
Gambling Begins to Re-Integrate Itself
During the early 20th century, Canada saw bingo start to creep back into their world. Yet, strictly as a charitable endeavor. Those familiar with how bingo halls operate understand that there are certainly benefits to the charities involved.
Bingo halls can also be extremely lucrative for those lucky few who win big.
Next, Canada introduced horse racing as a legal means for gamblers to get some live action. Upon recognizing the tremendous revenue potential that gambling provides. Canada legalized both national and provincial run lotteries.
Canada went from having strict restrictions on gambling to opening up for horse racing and lotteries in under 50 years. As this progression took place, residents began to see gambling as an acceptable form of entertainment.
During this same period towards the late 1960s, Canada started seeing its first land-based casinos. Most of these casinos were vastly different from what you’d expect to see in Las Vegas. These casinos were primarily made up of modest banks of slot machines and perhaps a bingo room.
This type of casino experience may not appeal to you in the least. After all, we’re spoiled in a time where all of the luxury and extravagance one could ever hope for is a cheap flight to Vegas away.
However, the first Canadian casinos were incredibly popular with residents. Perhaps more important than what they provided for those crowding the bingo parlor’s slots, and tables are what they meant for future gamblers.
These casinos opened the door for tables games and sports betting to become legal and, at the very least, sports betting to be decriminalized largely.
1985 Was a Big Year for Canadian Sports Bettors
In 1985, the Canadian government again made amendments to the Canadian Criminal code.
These improvements to the law meant you were now allowed to bet on sports via gaming machines. While this meant you still couldn’t legally bet on individual games. It did allow for parlay betting using electronic devices.
As you can see, there are huge similarities between sports betting laws and their progression between the United States and its neighbor to the north.
There were ways to skirt these changes and bet on individual games. The sportsbooks merely added an option to place 2 separate bets on each team of a particular contest. This workaround created the opportunity for sports bettors to place over/under wagers within the prevailing laws’ confines.
We gamblers are a crafty lot, and history is littered with instances of our creativity regarding skirting gaming laws.
Sports Betting in Canada Today
Sports betting remains largely a murky pool to wade in throughout Canada.
Like many states in the U.S., Canada’s sports betting laws are mainly outdated and in need of sweeping reform.
Online betting has completely changed the sports betting climate in the country. In contrast, it is illegal for any company to conduct business as an online casino or sportsbook within Canada. The laws do not make any specific mentions of Canada’s residents being forbidden from engaging in online gambling.
So, it isn’t illegal for Canadians to engage in online sports betting. Offshore sportsbooks have taken notice of the Canadian market and cashed in.
Sports bettors in Canada spend billions with these offshore sportsbooks each year. The kicker is that the Canadian government is getting zero.
Legal forms of betting in Canada provide the local and federal governments with a massive influx of cash. The sheer amount of dollars spent on sports betting online could significantly impact social programs and infrastructure. That’s (a very big) if those dollars weren’t being wired overseas to companies operating remotely.
Government officials have taken notice. I suppose there aren’t any politicians that don’t turn green at the thought of millions in tax dollars being sent to other countries.
I don’t mean that as a slight, the amount of tax revenue generated from legal gambling can do some great things in the right hands.
I would expect to see sports betting in Canada have significant legal reform over the next 2-5 years. Opening the doors for punters to not only bet online but also enjoy the addition of sportsbooks.
Obviously, the Canadian government will take a healthy cut of the action and use that money for social programs.
What Are Canadians Betting On?
We know that you can’t walk into a sportsbook in Canada and bet on a single game. We also know the Canadians are betting billions annually on sports offshore.
The first question that fact raises for me is simple. What are Canadians betting on?
The truth is Canadians bet on the same sports as U.S. gamblers. Still, in terms of popularity, the 2 are very different. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of what sport is bet on the most.
Canada eats, sleeps, and breathes hockey. Most Canadians are introduced to the great stick and puck as early as they can stand. I’ve heard interviews of players who were on skates before they could walk.
I don’t know how much truth there is in that. If you know how passionate hockey fans are in Canada, it sounds plausible.
The NHL provides an 82 game regular season plus playoffs. This means there is at least one game every night from October to April. Then the Stanley Cup Playoffs start-up and the real action starts.
Playoff hockey is among the most entertaining sports viewing available, even for the novice hockey fan.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the NFL betting holds a significant stake in the hearts, minds, and wallets of sports bettors in Canada. The league is among the most popular in the world. Plenty of action every Sunday means those who bet on sports can spend an entire day watching their picks.
The CFL may seem strange to sports bettors in the U.S., but Canadians are very familiar with the league. Die-hard fans will lay multiple bets on the league every week.
Did you know that James Naismith was Canadian?
That’s right, the man that invented the game was from the Great White North. Canadians love their basketball, and recently their fire for the game has only intensified.
Once the beautiful summers finally arrive in Canada, baseball replaces hockey as the sport du jour.
The success of the Toronto Blue Jays translated to a massive bump in the sport’s popularity in the 1990s. Recent playoff appearances have solidified baseball betting as one of the top sports for Canadian bettors.
I posed the question of “Can you bet on sports in Canada?”
The answer is a definite yes. The waters are muddied by the legalities of the sports betting scene in Canada. You can bet on sports, but not on single games unless you use an offshore sportsbook.
I’ll close with this and let you decide for yourself. Not a single sports bettor has ever faced prosecution for betting on sports in Canada.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …