Is Sports Betting In Canada Legal?

Casino Windsor would benefit greatly if legislation like Bill C-221 or Bill C-290 is ever passed and regulated single-game sports betting comes to Canada. (Photo credit: JasonParis / Foter / CC BY)

The question “Is Canada sports betting legal?” has been an issue of great debate for many years, particularly the legality of online sports betting in Canada.

Legal experts continually describe it as a ‘grey area’. Newspaper reporters lump online sports betting in with organized crime syndicates and refer to it all as illegal.

Is sports betting legal in Canada? More specifically, is online gambling legal in Canada?

Let’s get to the bottom of this, for once and for all.


Is it legal to bet on sports in Canada?


Canadian Criminal Code betting


There’s no better way to answer this question than consulting the Canadian Criminal Code. So, shall we?

Section 201 of the Criminal Code addresses gaming. You can read the entire section here if you’d like, but we’ll keep with the sports theme here and just go with highlights:

  • It is illegal to be found in a gaming or betting house in Canada
  • It is illegal to knowingly be the landlord of a property being used as a gaming or betting house in Canada
  • It is illegal to accept bets in Canada or sell a pool
  • It is illegal to place bets in Canada on behalf of another person

It’s interesting to see what’s illegal about sports betting in Canada, but it’s even more interesting to see what’s NOT illegal.

Like, it’s illegal to accept a sports bet in Canada, but it’s not illegal to make one for yourself. And like it’s illegal to be in a gaming or betting house in Canada, but it’s not illegal to be “in” one elsewhere (like the Internet).


Examples of illegal sports betting in Canada


is sports betting in Canada legal?The most common illegal sports betting in Canada is run by bookmakers, most of whom are believed to have ties to criminal organizations.

In February 2013, Ontario police arrested six people at a Super Bowl party in Markham, where charges laid were related to bookmaking and keeping a common betting house. High-ranking members of organized crime groups, such as outlaw motorcycle gangs, were the targets.

What the group was allegedly doing wrong in this instance was running a sports betting website in Canada and accepting bets there.

According to a Globe and Mail story about the incident, “such operations are typically legal where they are registered and where their computer servers are located. Transactions are illegal when bets are placed within Canada with a non-governmental agency.”


Canada Sports Betting Legal Methods


canada sports betting legal

So, since bookies are illegal and we don’t have any glitzy Las Vegas sportsbooks, how can you do legal sports betting in Canada?

Well, ever since the early 1990s, the obvious answer has been Proline and the other provincial sports lotteries like PlayNow, Mise-O-Jeu and Sport Select.

Proline and other PSLs allow you to do sports betting in Canada at convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores and other places you often shop at.

An amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code in 1985 allowed provinces to offer betting on sports events as long as it was part of “a lottery scheme”. That’s why all provincial sports lotteries require you to wager on a minimum of 2 games per ticket (otherwise known as a parlay) and some provinces insist you wager on at least 3 games, rather than permitting single-game sports betting.

Proline also retains a much higher percentage of wagered money it accepts than traditional sportsbooks. In a 2013 article in the Toronto Star, an Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation spokesperson said Proline aims to pay out approximately 60% of money wagered. Sportsbooks, by comparison, pay out approximately 95% of money wagered (assuming -110 odds).

With parlay requirements, poor odds and low limits to protect their liability, it’s no wonder Proline doesn’t satisfy many of us looking for legal sports betting in Canada.


Is Canada Online Sports Betting Legal Or Not?


Fortunately, there’s another way to bet on sports in Canada without breaking the law: using online sportsbooks.

Most online sportsbooks are registered and located in other countries, although Sports Interaction operates out of the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal – completely legally – and other sportsbooks like Bodog have servers based in Canada.

And, as we mentioned earlier, there are no laws in the Canadian Criminal Code that prohibit you from placing wagers with online sportsbooks.

“Online gambling is illegal in the United States and in many other countries across the globe,” reads an article on the RCMP website. “However, it’s a hard crime to prosecute because website operators are based in other countries where online gambling is legal, such as Australia, France and some provinces in Canada.”

The biggest reason some Canadians opt for online sportsbooks is because they allow you to bet on one game at a time, rather than the parlay requirement of Proline. Online sportsbooks also offer superior odds to almost all provincial sports lotteries (B.C.’s PlayNow has comparable odds to online sportsbooks, but still requires bettors to combine multiple outcomes on one ticket) and many also offer large sportsbook bonuses to new players.

Pending wagers Pinny

– An example of pending wagers at Pinnacle, an online sportsbook which accepts betting on single events


The push for regulated sports betting in Canada


Many of us are already doing our sports betting in Canada with either online sportsbooks or illegal bookmakers, rather than playing Proline.

According to a article from November 2014, $10 billion each year is bet through illegal booking operations run by organized crime. Another $5 billion per year is wagered at offshore sportsbooks.

These numbers dwarf the $500 million per year wagered in Proline betting.

Realizing the potential tax dollars that are being passed up, some government officials have recently begun pushing for government regulated sports betting in Canada. A bill that would legalize single-event sports betting in Canada, Bill C-290, was passed unanimously through the House of Commons in 2012.

“In an era where governments are clamping down on tax evaders and cheats, it would seem a no-brainer that to move forward to legalize that type of betting would be a win-win for the Canadian gaming industry, as well as for the Canadian taxpayer,” Pierre Cadieux, president and chief executive officer of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, was quoted as saying on a pro-Bill C-290 website.

Advocates for legalized single-event sports betting in Canada also point to the additional jobs and tourism revenue it would bring to Canadian casinos, particularly those located along the U.S. border.

Yet, Bill C-290 was never approved by the Canadian Senate and died in the summer of 2015 after the call for a federal election. It was then revived as Bill C-221 (The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act), but the Liberal party led the way in defeating the latest Canada sports betting bill in the House of Commons in September 2016.

Professional sports leagues have had varying opinions on whether single-event sports betting in Canada should be regulated by the government.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been outspoken in his concerns about gambling on the NHL. Major League Baseball executives have also been opposed to legalized gambling on their sport, and former Blue Jays president Paul Beeston worried it would create more problem gamblers and teach kids the wrong lessons about sports.

On the other side, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has openly embraced the notion of more betting on NBA basketball. That’s funny, considering that the reason Proline in Ontario didn’t offer NBA betting for 20 years is because the NBA insisted they remove it in order for Toronto to be granted the Raptors. (To be fair to Silver, David Stern was the NBA commissioner back then, and NBA betting is back on Proline in Ontario now.)

And then Bettman and the NHL further muddied the picture by expanding to Las Vegas, beginning in the 2017-18 season. Windsor West MP and Bill C-221 frontman Brian Masse ripped the NHL for its hypocrisy, suggesting the league “has now turned their backs, thumbed their nose and stuck out a finger at legislators here in Canada” by moving into what he called the “lion’s den of sports betting.”

The arguments from both sides of the debate are clear. What’s not clear is when – or if – legislation like Bill C-290 or Bill C-221 will be passed.

Even if single-event sports betting in Canada is provincially regulated, there is no guarantee that government-run sports betting would compete with odds and bonuses offered by online sportsbooks, or odds offered by illegal bookmakers. It’s entire possible that many of us would still do our sports betting in Canada the same way we always had before.


So is Pinnacle legal in Canada? And is Bodog legal in Canada?


1,600 words later, and it’s time to get back to our original question:

Is Canada online sports betting legal? How about using Sports Interaction? Or Bodog? Or Pinnacle?

The answer is yes, as long as you aren’t the one accepting the bets or in an illegal gaming or betting house.

According to the Canadian Criminal Code, it’s not even illegal to use an illegal bookmaker, though we certainly don’t recommend it. We’re not big fans of the thought of having Fat Tony come over to our house, armed with his baseball bat, to collect on a debt.

So, contrary to public perception, Proline is not the only legal way to do sports betting in Canada.

Online sportsbooks are also legal for Canadians to use, so long as they’re licensed and located in a jurisdiction that allows them to operate.