Historical Evolution of Gambling in Canada

Gambling has been an integral part of human civilization for thousands of years, and Canada has a rich tapestry of gambling history. This article delves deep into the evolution of gambling in Canada, shedding light on its beginnings, the legal challenges it faced, and its present state.

Early Indigenous Gambling

Long before Europeans arrived in Canada, the indigenous peoples had their own games of chance. These games, like stick and bone or slahal, weren’t just about entertainment; they were deeply embedded in their cultural and spiritual beliefs.

Stick and Bone Games

Traditionally, these were games played with wooden sticks and animal bones. They were popular among various tribes and often accompanied significant events or ceremonies. More than just a game, they served as a means of communication with the spiritual world.


A guessing game with roots in the Northwest Coast tribes, Slahal was more than just entertainment. Often accompanied by music and song, it was a communal event, forging bonds between tribes and reinforcing social hierarchies.

European Influence and the Introduction of Cards

With the advent of European settlers in the 16th century came a new wave of gambling games. Card games like poker and blackjack became popular, transforming the gambling landscape in Canada. Taverns and saloons soon became hotspots for these card games, leading to the birth of the first gambling establishments.

19th Century: Legal Challenges and the Emergence of Horse Racing

In the 1800s, the Canadian government faced moral and social challenges with gambling. As a result, most forms of gambling were banned in 1892 under the Canadian Criminal Code. However, this didn’t deter Canadians. Instead, it led to the rise of underground gambling dens.

Horse racing, on the other hand, was exempt from this ban. It rapidly grew in popularity, becoming a staple in Canadian entertainment. The establishment of the Queens Plate in 1860, the oldest thoroughbred horse race in North America, further solidified its status.

20th Century: The Shift towards Legalization

The mid-20th century saw a shift in the Canadian government’s stance on gambling. Recognizing its economic benefits, the government started to loosen its restrictions. In 1969, amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code allowed provinces and territories to regulate and offer lotteries. This move paved the way for the establishment of the country’s first lotteries and eventually, land-based casinos.

The Emergence of Land-Based Casinos

The first Canadian land-based casino opened its doors in Winnipeg in 1989. This was quickly followed by more casinos in different provinces, transforming Canada into a major gambling destination.

Time Period Main Gambling Activities Significant Developments
Pre-European Era Stick and Bone Games, Slahal Games deeply embedded in cultural and spiritual beliefs of indigenous tribes.
16th Century Poker, Blackjack Introduction of European card games, birth of first gambling establishments.
19th Century Horse Racing Establishment of Queens Plate, rise of underground gambling due to bans.
20th Century Lotteries, Land-Based Casinos Amendments in Canadian Criminal Code leading to legalization of certain gambling forms.
21st Century Online Gambling Rise of digital platforms, regulation of online gambling for safety.

The Digital Age: Online Gambling

The late 20th and early 21st centuries heralded the rise of online gambling. With advancements in technology, Canadians could now access their favorite casino games from the comfort of their homes. While there were initial reservations about its legality, provinces soon recognized its potential and began to regulate online gambling, ensuring a safe environment for players.

Present Day: A Thriving Industry

Today, gambling in Canada is a multi-billion-dollar industry. From the traditional land-based casinos to the plethora of online platforms, Canadians have a variety of options to indulge in their gambling pursuits. The country’s progressive stance on gambling regulation has made it a model for other nations.

With a deep-rooted history and a promising future, the evolution of gambling in Canada is a testament to the nation’s adaptability and openness to change.