All Canadian criminal law is enacted and enforced at the federal level (1), in contrast to the United States where each state comes up with their own criminal statutes and has their own criminal code.
So in Canada, it doesn’t matter which province you live in, as the criminal laws are identical. So it will only be necessary for us to discuss the law as it pertains to Canada in general.
When it comes to the gambling law in Canada, a lot of people will say that Canada is a grey area so to speak, which is held to mean that the law is to some degree unclear as to whether or not gambling, or playing online poker for money specifically, is legal or not.
It’s important though not to confuse sanctioning something with not permitting it. There are certain instances where gambling is sanctioned in Canada, for instance playing the lottery or gambling at a licensed casino would be sanctioned, but these sanctions are only necessary to the degree that a certain form of gambling would be otherwise illegal and the sanctioning serves as exceptions to the law.
So in other words if it is illegal to operate an unlicensed casino in Canada, which you will see that it is, then if you’re going to operate one then it needs to be awarded an exemption from the law, which is the purpose the license serves.
So the way this all works is that the law provides the prohibitions, in other words what is not allowed, and then within these prohibited practices it may provide exemptions, allowing certain forms of what would otherwise be prohibited. Reference sites such as ours usually give the most updated versions of the laws here, so please check in regularly or bookmark us.
So it isn’t at all accurate to say then that since the law in Canada does not contain provisions to permit online gambling then this involves a grey area where it may or may not be legal. Sometimes the law may be unclear where it may or may not prohibit a certain activity, which as you will see is not the case at all with playing online poker in Canada, but for now it will suffice to say that unless the law prohibits something, it is not against the law.
What Does The Law In Canada Say About Gambling?
The criminal law in Canada concerns itself with what is defined as either a common betting house or a common gaming house. They are pretty similar, although a common betting house deals with facilitating bets in general, as would a sports betting parlor for instance, where a common gaming house would involve bets on games like a casino would take (2)
In any event these are establishments set up for the purpose of facilitating gambling either between parties or between the operator of the establishment and the parties. “Game” here by the way is defined as either a game of chance or a game of mixed chance and skill. (3)
It is against the law to either operate one of these gaming houses or even to be present at one “without lawful excuse.” (4) It is presumed that lawful excuse would not extend to being there to engage in gambling.
It is also illegal to run a book making operation, and this section does extend to not only providing the bookmaking or pool selling but also providing information related to the betting involved in these contests. (5) This isn’t anything that deals with poker in any sense though so we need not be concerned at all with this particular section.
How This All Cashes Out For Poker Playing
The law goes on to set prohibitions for the promotion of various other games of chance, and other than it being against the law to be present without lawful excuse at an illegal gaming establishment, it is exclusively focused on the operation and promotion of gambling, not its participation. You aren’t allowed to place bets on behalf of anyone else but there’s nothing stopping you from placing bets on behalf of yourself.
So in other words poker playing isn’t illegal unless it’s done at a common gaming house, but when we play online we aren’t present in a common gaming house but in our own home, and there is no restrictions in the law barring that. If the operators were located in Canada, they may be breaking Canadian law, but this isn’t something we need even concern ourselves with since we’re players not operators.
Interestingly enough, the hub of North American gaming is actually located on an Indian Reserve in Canada – on the rather infamous Kahnawake reserve – but this tribe does not feel they are accountable to Canadian law and the authorities leave them alone.
Outside of Canada, there are two licensing jurisdictions that are utilized by most Canadian gambling sites. These are the Malta Gaming Authority (the MGA) and Curacao eGaming. The former is the more reputable of the two by leaps and bounds, so we recommend sticking to playing at online gaming sites backed by MGA licenses.
There are also many gaming companies that operate out of Canada, most notably Amaya Gaming, which now owns Poker Stars and Full Tilt. These sites offer play to Canadians and there is no indication that they intend to stop doing this.
There are some offshore sites that have stopped accepting Canadians, but it isn’t due to the fear of Canadian law, but instead due to pandering to the whims of other countries such as the U.K.’s new licensing requirements which some operators fear that if they allow play in Canada this might influence the licensing board.
Canada also has a good number of licensed establishments where you can play live poker, totaling over 50 locations spread across the country (6). The tolerance for gambling in Canada is pretty liberal actually and it’s generally accepted as a permissible pastime and many Canadians enjoy it in its many forms.
As far as playing online goes, if a poker site allows you to play at their site there is no need whatsoever to be concerned, and you don’t even have to declare the income you make off of gambling on your taxes as gambling winnings are tax free in Canada unless you play professionally, and if you do, you simply declare your income from it like you would declare any other income.
So in this case you are basically telling the government that you not only play online poker from it but you make your living doing this and no one has a problem with it because it isn’t in any sense illegal.
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