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August 2, 2023

Complete Guide to Ontario Gambling Laws—How To Play at Casinos Legally

Over the past few years, gambling legislation has evolved significantly in North America—including the relevant regulations in Canada. Rules on land-based and online gambling are particularly complex here, considering the interplay between federal and provincial laws. 

Ontario legislators have proven to be forward-thinkers by creating one of the most well-regulated gaming markets in the country. Still, understanding Ontario gambling regulations without legal education is far from easy, yet incredibly important. This is particularly true for online gambling, where you might come across hundreds of scammers and suspicious gaming websites. 

To avoid them, you should understand the difference between a legal, respectable online casino and an untrustworthy one. This in-depth guide to Ontario’s gambling laws will provide all the necessary info you need to play responsibly and legally. 

Land-Based Canadian Gambling Laws—A Quick Background 

Understanding Ontario gambling laws is impossible without understanding the historical context of local legislation and the context of Canadian federal law, which affects provincial regulations. 

In Ontario, and the rest of Canada, the history of gambling regulation has been a series of changing stances, largely depending on the current societal attitudes in the country. 

Historically, Canada’s rules on gambling have been stringent, and most wagers have been viewed as illegal. According to Canada’s federal law outlined in the Criminal Code, organizing and running a “common betting house” is illegal in the country. However, this stance has softened over time.

The first major shift in this position came in the late 1960s when the Canadian Criminal Code was changed to allow government-run lotteries across provinces. Initially, these lotteries were used to raise funds for public causes, like the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. 

After that, the Criminal Code was changed once more in 1985, when provinces obtained the right to regulate land-based and online gambling in their jurisdictions. Horse racing was the only exception, which was still kept out of their purview—that would change as well in 2015. 

In 2021, the Criminal Code was further amended to let provincial governments regulate sports betting in their jurisdictions. 

Canadian Lottery Corporations—Ontario & Beyond

Source: Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation

Today, most provinces maintain public-owned lottery companies and casino operators whose executives are appointed by the respective governments. In most cases, these are the only legal gambling operations in their provinces. 

Here’s a list of the various government-run gambling operators across Canada: 

  1. Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation
  2. British Columbia Lottery Corporation
  3. Western Canada Lottery Corporation
  4. Loto-Québec
  5. Saskatchewan Lotteries
  6. Atlantic Lottery Corporation
  7. Alberta Gaming, Liquor & Cannabis
  8. Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corporation

While these lottery corporations are government bodies, they rarely manage and conduct gambling activities in practice—especially when it comes to land-based casinos. In reality, provincial governments have complex regulatory schemes which allow them to label all private casino operators as “suppliers” for the state-run lottery companies. 

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is a prime example of this, based on its relationship with the local gaming regulatory body—the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO)

Source: Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario

AGCO has a registry with every individual and company that has a role in providing “gambling-related services” to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). The legal entity nominally “organizes” all betting and gambling in the province. This includes everyone from the individual dealer at a land-based casino to the casino operators and companies that design casino games. 

As a result, various private companies organize and profit off the 30-something land-based casinos in Ontario. The regional government’s gambling monopoly is still technically upheld because the OLG is the only official casino operator in the province; all other companies are merely service providers to the OLG. 

Ontario Gambling Rules for Online Casinos

So far, we’ve only laid out the rules applicable to land-based casinos. Still, millions of punters worldwide are playing casino games from the comfort of their computers or smartphones—can residents of Ontario do the same, legally? 

The short answer is yes—playing at an online casino is legal in Canada, and more specifically, Ontario—if you’re of legal age. The prohibition outlined in the Criminal Code only applies to running casinos, not playing in them. 

Besides land venues, the regulation also applies to online casinos. Canadian players can enjoy themselves on any web platform, but it’s illegal for the casino operator or its servers to be based in Ontario or other provinces. 

Over the years, Canadian lottery corporations introduced various digital gaming products, but most of them were a far cry from the burgeoning online casino scene in the rest of the world.

Their main focus has always been organizing various lotteries. While the lottery game formats vary across Canada, the majority of them involve buying tickets with randomly generated numbers—with the right combination resulting in cash prizes. The most popular lottery games in Canada are Daily Grand and Lotto Max

For a long time, lottery companies were the only entities that could offer sports betting services, focusing on hockey, football, and basketball. They also regulate and organize charitable gaming activities, like pull-tab tickets, bingo, and raffles. The proceeds usually go to local charitable causes. 

While they’re in the process of modernizing, these platforms still can’t compete against the sophisticated software and game portfolios of off-shore online casinos. 

Such a state of affairs left players with a tough choice—either risk playing at unverified and untrustworthy off-shore casinos or contend with the limited offer of online casino games in Canada. Luckily, the government of Ontario’s stepped in with a solution in 2021. 

iGaming Ontario

Source: iGaming Ontario

The legislators of Ontario recognized that there were many legitimate and trustworthy off-shore casinos their citizens could safely visit—but none of them could legally operate within Ontario borders because of the casino ban.

Ultimately, Ontario solved this issue like it solved the same problem with land-based casinos. The province set up a government-run online casino company to regulate the entire market—iGaming Ontario

In collaboration with ACGO, iGaming Ontario licenses all internationally based online casinos that fulfill their criteria for a reputable gaming establishment. These operators are technically providing their services to iGaming Ontario, which in turn services players. In practice, iGaming Ontario is simply a licensing body for off-shore casino operators. 

Today, AGCO and iGaming Ontario ensure that all licensed online casinos are respectable venues where players can safely:

  • Deposit money
  • Share personal and financial information
  • Withdraw winnings on time

Safe and Responsible Gambling in Ontario—Rules and Practices

Source: Kowshik Roy sagor

One of the best things about playing at an AGCO-licensed establishment is the ability to enjoy a thrilling but safe online casino environment. All legal casinos in Ontario abide by AGCO’s strict standards and practices for responsible gambling, ensuring players enjoy:

  1. Limit-setting options
  2. Self-exclusion features 
  3. Fair game design
  4. Dependable payment methods

Limit-Setting Options

It’s only advisable to play at online casinos if you can afford to spend the money you deposit. Unfortunately, many players let their gambling habit get out of hand and turn occasional fun into a huge money sink. 

That’s why AGCO-licensed casinos in Ontario provide players with easy-to-access features for gaming limits. These can either be financial (in the form of deposit or loss limits) or time-based (in the form of self-enforced breaks from the casino). 

You can even set deposit and loss limits during the account registration process. A deposit limit means the casino won’t accept payments over the preset amount, while a loss limit means you won’t be able to make bets after losing a certain amount of money. 

If you opt for a time limit, AGCO-registered venues give you at least one of these four options:

  1. Three months
  2. One month
  3. One week
  4. One day

You’re allowed to change the limits you’ve previously requested, although not instantly. If you want to eliminate or relax a limit, the relevant request will only be granted after 24 hours. You can cancel the request in the meantime if you change your mind and decide to stick with the previous limits. 

Self-Exclusion Features

Once you feel like you need a break from your favourite online casino, AGCO-regulated establishments let you temporarily block yourself from placing wagers. Once the break is initiated, you won’t be able to log into your account until the predetermined time period runs out. 

If you’re opting for self-exclusion because your gambling is getting out of hand, legal online casinos in Ontario also provide tons of info and resources to help you deal with this issue. Each of these websites provides a link to ConnexOntario, which can help you cope with a gambling problem. 

Unlike the time-based limits we’ve mentioned above, self-exclusion features usually last much longer. Players can choose from the following periods:

  • Half a year
  • One year
  • Five years

After you choose self-exclusion, legitimate casinos won’t let you visit their website or send you promotional material via email. During the exclusion period, you can ask the casino staff to refund any remaining deposits.

Fair Game Design

One of the most important hallmarks of a respectable online casino is a fair and random gaming experience. When you’re not playing at a live casino or a physical table, it’s a lot easier for malicious casino operators to manipulate the odds. That’s why casinos under AGCO’s purview undergo strict testing to ensure fair gameplay conditions for all players. 

At a legitimate online venue, the games are never designed to mislead you or give you an inaccurate view of game outcomes. Since Ontario’s legalization of sports betting, these rules also apply to information presented by online casinos with a sportsbook. If you suspect you’ve been misled or manipulated at any regulated online casino, make sure to report them immediately. 

Dependable Payment Methods

Source: CardMapr.nl

Any online casino worth its salt will give you a decent number of payment options. Casinos do this to increase the player’s convenience during transactions. Generally, it’s a good rule of thumb to view online casinos with a wider variety of payment options as more reputable. 

According to Ontario’s gambling laws and AGCO guidelines, casinos don’t have to provide any specific set of payment methods, and there are no restrictions on payment methods. There’s only one exception—casinos licensed by AGCO can’t support payments via Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency, as it’s not legal tender in Canada. 

Here are some of the payment methods most often used at online casinos:

Payment methods entail different fees charged by the casino, your payment processor, or both. Bank transfers are notorious for higher casino fees compared to other withdrawal methods, but they’re also more secure. On the other hand, credit card transactions via Visa or Mastercard require you to divulge more financial information, but they’re almost instant. 

Before deciding where you’ll play, have a look at the casino’s withdrawal policies too. According to AGCO, casinos have to inform players clearly about all withdrawal and deposit policies. Only play at casinos that specifically outline fees, withdrawal limits, and available payment methods. 

It’s also a good idea to choose an establishment that gives clear ETAs for various withdrawal methods. Make sure that the casino’s withdrawal limits aren’t too tight either; once you fulfill the wagering requirements, withdrawing your money should be simple and easy.

Other Gaming Authorities

Apart from Ontario, the online casino scene in Canada is still largely unregulated—often leaving players vulnerable to sketchy operators. That’s why it’s important to only play at online venues you can trust. 

Even if you’re based somewhere else in Canada, Ontario’s online gambling regulations can still help you choose the right casino. 

AGCO and iGaming Ontario place international casinos under detailed legal, reputational, and financial scrutiny before letting them service local players. As a result, an AGCO license is a great indicator of a trustworthy off-shore casino, even if you’re from Quebec, British Columbia, or anywhere else in the country. 

AGCO does a great job of cherry-picking the most reputable casinos worth your time and money. However, there are other gaming authorities from other countries that also provide trustworthy casino licenses. If a casino doesn’t have an Ontario license, you can still differentiate a respectable establishment if it has one of these licenses: 

Online Gambling Laws in Other Canadian Provinces

From 2021, any online casino that wants to open its doors to Ontario-based players must obtain an AGCO license first. Unfortunately, other Canadian provinces haven’t caught on and liberalized their online gaming markets. 

If you’re interested in gambling laws enforced in other Canadian provinces, here’s a quick guide to the relevant regulatory acts:

Province/Territory Gambling Regulation ActLocal Gaming Authority
Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest TerritoriesNoneNone
Newfoundland and LabradorLottery Licensing Regulation under the Government Money Purchase Lottery ActService NL
QuebecAct respecting Lotteries, Publicity Contests, and Amusement MachinesLoto-Québec
New BrunswickGaming Control Act of 2008Gaming Control Branch of the Department of Public Safety
SaskatchewanAlcohol and Gaming Regulation Act of 1997Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority
Prince Edward IslandLotteries Commission ActPrince Edward Island Lotteries Commission
AlbertaGaming, Liquor, and Cannabis ActAlberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Commission
Nova ScotiaGaming Control ActAlcohol, Gaming, Fuel and Tobacco Division of Service Nova Scotia
British ColumbiaGaming Control ActBritish Columbia Lottery Corporation
ManitobaLiquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control ActLiquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba

Top 10 Reputable Online Casinos in Canada

Don’t want to spend hours checking casino licenses and researching their reputation? Even with all the information we’ve provided above, choosing the right casino can take a long time. If you’d like to start playing right now, we’ve got a few suggestions when it comes to respectable online casinos:

Online CasinoLicensesGateway
Luxury Casino• MGA
• KGC
• UKGC
Click here to visit!
DraftKings Casino• NJDGE
• MGCB
• AGCO
• PGCB
Click here to visit!
SpinAway• GCB
• AGCO
Click here to visit!
Jackpot City• AGCO
• AGCC
Click here to visit!
Golden Tiger• MGA
• AGCO
• UKGC
Click here to visit!
Caxino• MGA
• GGL
• AGCO
Click here to visit!
Spinz• MGAClick here to visit!
PokerStars Casino• AGC
• MGA
• SGA
• UKGC
Click here to visit!
Dream Vegas• MGA
• AGCO
• UKGC
Click here to visit!
Ruby Fortune• MGA
• SGA
Click here to visit!

Featured image source: Heather Gill

Ninja Admin

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