The history of casinos in Canada

The casino and gambling industry in Canada has made a huge transformation over the years. What once started as a game with animal bones thousands of years ago has evolved into thousands of online casinos in Canada to choose from. Nowadays, people can even choose a $1 deposit casino in Canada to start playing for real money. Additionally, some online casinos offer no wagering at their casinos or payments with cryptocurrencies.

The gaming industry has evolved into a multi-billion dollar market and Canadian casinos compete with each other to make potential players choose them over their rivals. 

But how did we arrive at such a huge market with vast diversity in the casino market? We’ve dug deep into the history of casinos in Canada and came up with some interesting findings for you. 

The history of casinos in Canada


For many centuries, games of chance were played at some smaller and unofficial gatherings, long before digital casinos made their appearance.We cannot tell you the exact moment in time people started playing games of chance, but the first record of gambling in Canada dates back to thousands of years ago. Indigenous people played with bones from a deer or other animals to beat each other in Slahal, a game that’s still being played today. The game has several aspects to it – from a sacred ritual and a family recreation to a chance to win money out of it. 

1330s: ban on dice games

In 1497, John Cabot claimed territory of Canada for England. Since it was technically under British rule, gambling was promptly made illegal in Canada. This is why the first law in Canada on gambling is traced back to 1338 when Richard III prohibited several dice games in England as he was convinced that it was too distracting to his soldiers and a waste of their time. All games were banned. The ban on dice games in Canada was only lifted in 1999. 

Native tribes playing cards in 1497

The playing of card decks became prevalent until paper was invented about 2,000 years ago in China. Therefore, it is likely that Chinese and Korean people were the very first to gamble with a deck of cards but it is unclear when exactly this was conveyed to Canada. 

But a definite moment in Canadian gambling history was in 1497 when John Cabot landed on the countries’ East Coast and he discovered that native tribes enjoyed games of luck with a deck of cards. Of course, those games were very primitive and not comparable with what we are used to today, but this discovery is considered to be the start of real gambling in Canada.

First horse racing event in 1767

 The first official gambling event was a big horse racing event on 1 July in 1767 in Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham. The mare Modesty, ridden by Captain Prescott, ran the track effortlessly and became the winner of the first horse racing event. The total purse of her victory was $40. 

1910: Pari-mutuel betting and occasional games become allowed

In 1892, the Canadian Criminal Code which was still held in force by the English common law allowed gambling under a few conditions. Almost two decades later, in 1910, an amendment allowed pari-mutuel betting. This is a betting system in which all bets are collected together in a pool, it literally translates ‘’to wager amongst ourselves’’. It is mostly used in betting on horse races at racetracks.The 1910 amendment also permitted occasional games of luck where profits were used for religious purposes and charities. 

Through the years, most gambling laws were amended a little here and there but they remained relatively unchanged until 1970. 

1970 Changes: Growth into a Multibillion-dollar industry

The 1970 law changes have surely paved the way for the creation of the multi-billion dollar industry. These law changes gave provinces the right to implement their own laws in gambling. 

In 1985, Canada sports betting was finally made legal in the country, but not single-game wagering. 

In 1989 Canada’s first commercial land-based casino was opened in Winnipeg. Another casino in Montréal followed suit in 1993. Other provinces opened several of their own casinos a few years later. Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan now have their own commercial casinos. A few governments placed Video Lottery Terminals in their provinces as well, generating millions of dollars yearly. In August 2021, single-game sports betting became legal in Canada. 

It was reported that in 2020 at least 19.3 million Canadians regularly partake in gambling games, resulting in a $2.66 billion revenue.

Gambling is certainly growing in popularity and becoming more and more accessible for the people in Canada. Up to this day, Canadians who are 19 years old or over can enjoy themselves in a brick and mortar casino and even sign up at the best online casinos in Canada. Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec are the only provinces that let 18 year olds gamble. During the past 90 years gambling in Canada has transformed from an activity tolerated only with strict rules to a widely accepted leisure activity.



About Joel Levy 2136 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography