Sports, and sports betting, are very popular in Canada. Hockey is, of course, the marquee sport in the country, but most American sports are also closely followed by Canadians. NFL games have been on tv in Canada for decades and most Canadians sports fans have a favorite U.S. team in addition to a favorite Canadian Football League (CFL) team. NBA basketball is a hit among many Canadians, with the Toronto Raptors being an obvious fan favorite, particularly after their 2019 NBA Championship. Lastly, the Blue Jays may play in Toronto but they are Canada’s MLB team, with all their games broadcast nationwide on television.
Our friends to the north have a much different sports betting history and structure than we do here in America. Betting on sports is wildly popular in the country, but single-game wagering is not explicitly legal yet. It is not explicitly illegal either, so many Canadian bettors end up wagering with European bookmakers, and other offshore operators.
Canadian legislative leaders have been working diligently to amend the criminal code to eliminate any ambiguity and authorize provinces to allow single-event wagering in their jurisdictions. This idea had been kicked around for a while but has finally become a reality. Read on for more on the single-game legalization efforts passed by Parliament in June 2021, a detailed look at the Canadian sports betting scene, the existing gaming industry in the country, and what we expect the sports betting landscape to look like in Canada when it is fully operational.
Best Legal Betting Sites in Canada
Canada Passes C-218
Efforts to legalize single-game betting in Canada have been ongoing for several years. The idea has been kicked around in Parliament since 2015 and before. One could argue that sports betting being legalized in the United States is what finally created the momentum to fully legalize sports betting in Canada. Similar to the U.S., the major sports leagues and other stakeholders who were once opposed to legalization changed their mind and publicly expressed their support for the bipartisan legislative efforts in Parliament.
C-218 was the most recent legislative effort to legalize single-game betting. It was a simple bill that would change the criminal code to make it explicitly lawful for provinces to administer and regulate single-game sports betting. It included an exemption for the horse racing industry and enjoyed a great deal of support from almost every major stakeholder group. The bill passed the House of Commons, Canada’s equivalent to the House of Representatives, in February 2021, but its fate in the Senate, Canada’s equivalent of the Senate (pun intended), remained unclear until June 23, 2021, a day that will forever be celebrated by Canadian sports bettors.
After weeks of debate and consideration, time was running out for the Senate to vote on C-218 prior to its planned summer recess. There was also the possibility of an election in the fall that would derail the bill and leave its supporters back at square one. All that, and more, led to some tense moments for Canada sports betting proponents. But on June 23rd the stars aligned and a vote was held on the bill. After a few hours of debate it ultimately passed with the final vote tally coming in at 57-20 with 5 abstentions.
What C-218 means for sports betting in Canada
Basically, passage of C-218 means that single-game wagering will be legal and live in Canada before the end of 2021. Currently, the 10 provinces and 2 territories (Yukon and Northwest Territory) each offer parlay-style sports betting, casino games, and lotteries run by one of five lottery commissions operating in the country. Some provinces with smaller populations have grouped together to form a collective lottery commission, hence why there are five commissions for ten provinces. It will be relatively easy to add single-game sports betting to their existing regulatory structure if the provinces choose to do so. Each province will make their own decision. The vast but sparsely populated territory of Nunavut does not currently allow any sort of commercial gaming.
The most likely immediate outcome of the passage of C-218 is that existing lottery commissions will add single-game betting to their existing online sportsbooks. For example, the British Columbia Lottery Commission (BCLC) offers the impressive Play Now website and app, which features online lotteries, keno, a casino, online poker, bingo, and a sportsbook. The online sportsbook would look familiar to anyone in America aside from the decimal/European pricing (1.91 instead of -110). All the major sports worldwide are featured and the technology appears to be industry standard. BCLC even states on its website that it supports single-game wagering and will add it to Play Now when it is legalized. The other four provincial government-run sportsbooks will likely follow suit.
Supporters of Canadian sports betting
- All the major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) have publicly supported efforts to legalize sports betting and have recently partnered with various sportsbooks.
- The Canadian Football League (CFL) has vigorously endorsed C-218, believing it will lead to increased ratings, fan engagement, and promotional opportunities that will increase league revenue.
- Unsurprisingly, sports betting companies and their trade association, the Canadian Gaming Association, have endorsed C-218 and are very excited about its recent passage. They are obviously hoping that some, if not all, of the provinces will allow additional competition aside from the lottery commissions that currently offer sports betting.
- Media coverage of the debate has described police and law enforcement groups as supportive of the bill after opposing previous versions.
- The horse racing industry was opposed to C-218, but dropped their opposition after horse racing was exempted from the bill.
- The Canadian Olympic Committee has stated its support for C-218, which is significant because of the cultural importance of Olympic-style winter sports in the country.
- Provincial lottery commissions support the legislation and are eager to add single-game wagering to their existing online sportsbooks.
Opponents of Canada sports betting
The biggest opponent of C-218 and single-game wagering is the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, a quasi-regulatory body created by the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake that licenses online gaming operators in Canada. The KGC has issued licenses to several sportsbooks and attempted to work with the legislature to have their regulatory authority recognized and included in draft legislation. They are concerned that provinces that allow legal Canada sports betting sites will not recognize the Commission’s authority, thereby limiting their regulatory influence and preventing operators licensed by the KGC from doing business in provinces with legal sports betting. Their lobbying did not result in any changes to C-218 and their actual regulatory authority remains limited.
Which sportsbooks are coming to Canada?
Single-game wagering is coming to Canada, but are the major U.S. sportsbooks coming as well? Perhaps. We’ve discussed the provincial lottery commissions, all of which will almost certainly add single-game markets to their existing sportsbooks. That seems to be settled. What is not settled is whether the big companies like DraftKings and BetMGM will end up operating in Canada. They have stated their clear interest in entering the Canadian market, particularly on their social media channels. The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, said on Twitter that Canadians should “get ready” for BetMGM. When Wayne Gretzky speaks, people in Canada listen.
The regulatory process is just beginning and the licensing structure has yet to be determined by any province, so it is too early to say definitively whether sportsbooks will gain access to the Canadian market. This page will be updated as new details emerge and the regulatory structure takes shape.
That said, here are some of the major sportsbook brands that have publicly announced their interest and/or intentions to enter the Canadian market if allowed to do so:
- theScore Bet – Canadian company already live in Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, and New Jersey
- PointsBet – Recently announced a Chief Commercial Officer for Canadian operations
- FanDuel – Currently operates DFS games in Canada
- DraftKings – Currently operates DFS games in Canada; Member of Canadian Gaming Association
- Caesars – Member of Canadian Gaming Association; Owns large casino in Windsor, Ontario
- Hard Rock – Member of Canadian Gaming Association; Owns casinos in Vancouver and Ottawa (opening TBA)
- BetMGM – Currently seeking to develop a large casino in Calgary, Alberta.
— BetMGM 🦁 (@BetMGM) June 22, 2021
Legal gambling in Canada
Now that we have gone over what the addition of single-game wagering means to Canada, let’s examine which gaming options are currently available to bettors in the country.
Lottery-run parlay betting
As we have previously discussed, Canada sports betting has been legal since 1985… just not single-game wagering. Bettors in each of Canada’s 10 provinces have been able to make parlay bets through the provincial lotteries. The online sportsbooks run by the lotteries look very similar to the ones in America and all major sports and markets are available, the only difference being the requirement to take two or more wagers per bet rather than a single bet, which was originally required in order to reduce the chances of match-fixing.
Casinos and horse racing
Canada is no stranger to casino gambling. Casinos dot the country and each province has its own lottery program. Prior to legalized casino gambling coming to New York and Michigan, residents of those two states flocked across the border to Niagara Falls and Windsor, respectively, to place bets at the cities’ large casinos.
Horse racing is also popular in Canada, with several tracks doubling as racinos. The horse racing industry strongly opposed legalizing single-game wagering because of its potential impact on revenues. If people are betting on sports, they may not be as interested in betting on horses. Horse racing was exempted from C-218, which means that state lottery commissions will not offer horse racing as a wagering option. This was great news for the industry, as it will preserve the ability of the private horse racetracks to continue to host races and offer wagering at tracks across the country. After being exempted from the bill, the industry quickly dropped its opposition and supported its final passage.
There are five provincial lottery commissions that administer various lottery games along with online casinos and other gaming options throughout Canada. Canadians can play lottery games either online or in-person at retail locations such as convenience stores.
While Canadians are able to place wagers on offshore sites, the legality of doing so is murky. Betting on sports isn’t legal outside of the provincial lotteries, but it isn’t explicitly illegal either. As such, Canadians haven’t been prosecuted for using offshore sportsbooks and the sportsbooks themselves haven’t been subject to investigation or prosecution either. This has led to various European, Caribbean, and Central American sites welcoming Canadian bettors. Keeping this revenue in the country and establishing a regulatory authority to oversee single-game wagering in addition to parlay betting is why legislative leaders have sought to explicitly legalize single-game sports betting.
Kahnawake Gaming Commission
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC) is a wild-card in Canada’s sports betting regulatory structure. The KGC is a tribal entity that issues licenses to gaming operators wanting be licensed by an independent regulatory body. The regulated operators are not necessarily based in Canada. This mostly relates to online casinos, but the KGC does license several sportsbooks. Entities that are licensed by the KGC are required to locate their servers on Kahnawake tribal land and must process all transactions using those servers.
Canada’s federal government does not have jurisdiction over the KGC, so the tribe is free to license entities as it wishes. However, the federal government also doesn’t recognize the KGC as a legitimate regulatory authority. The KGC exists in a legal grey area. The government has pretty much left them alone, but they still lack any true regulatory powers in Canada outside of their own tribal land. The sportsbooks that it authorizes continue to operate in Canada under their KGC licenses, but they aren’t officially licensed by provincial governments or the federal government.
In an effort to create additional regulatory legitimacy for itself, in 2016 the KGC came to an agreement with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement spelling out that the KGC would not provide licenses to gaming entities who accept customers from the USA. This would prohibit offshore sportsbooks from seeking licenses from KGC as a back-door entry to the American market. As a result, books that use the Kahnawake Gaming Commission are not legal in the United States.
By licensing various casinos and sportsbooks, the KGC generates a great deal of revenue for the Mohawk community of Kahnawake. The KGC is opposed to any attempts to legalize single-game betting because they fear being cut out of the picture if provinces decide to regulate and license sportsbooks. This is a legitimate concern, because C-218 does not legalize Canada sports betting at the federal level; rather, it amends the criminal code to authorize provinces or an entity licensed by a province to manage a lottery scheme “on a single sport event or athletic contest.” Any province that legalizes single-game wagering and creates their own regulatory structure is unlikely to recognize the KGC as a dual regulatory authority.
Sports in Canada
There are 37.6 million people in Canada, a remarkable 90 percent of whom live within 100 miles of the US border. American broadcast channels are available in most Canadian cities on cable and all major American sporting events are broadcast in Canada, including college football and basketball. Yes, Canadians fill out March Madness brackets just like Americans. The equivalent of ESPN in the country is TSN, and SportsCenter is called SportsCentre. Let’s go over which teams are most popular in Canada, as they will all be popular betting targets once single-game gets the go-ahead.
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Montreal Canadiens
- Ottawa Senators
- Winnipeg Jets
- Edmonton Oilers
- Calgary Flames
- Vancouver Canucks
There are 7 NHL teams in Canada, and they are clearly the most popular professional teams in the country. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the Yankees of Canada, but without the recent championships. They are far and away the most popular team in the country but haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. The other Canadian teams have had more recent playoff success, but no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the trophy in 1993.
- Toronto Raptors
The NBA has been in Canada since 1995, when the Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies joined the league as expansion teams. The Grizzlies ended up relocating to Memphis, but the Raptors have been a hugely successful franchise, even winning the NBA Championship in 2019. The Raptors are very popular throughout Canada, with every game broadcast nationwide.
- Toronto Blue Jays
Major League Baseball has had a team in Canada since 1969. You probably remember the Montreal Expos, the beleaguered franchise once owned by MLB before eventually moving to Washington in 2005 to become the Nationals. What you may not remember is that the Expos began playing in Montreal in 1969 as a National League team, 8 years before the Blue Jays joined the American League in 1977. Of course, the Expos are gone, but the Blue Jays are still going strong.
- BC Lions
- Calgary Stampeders
- Edmonton Elks (nee Eskimos)
- Saskatchewan Roughriders
- Winnipeg Blue Bombers
- Hamilton Tiger-Cats
- Toronto Argonauts
- Montreal Alouettes
- Ottawa RedBlacks
The CFL has been around since 1958, which actually pre-dates the NFL. With its wider fields, bigger end zones, and 3 downs instead of 4, the CFL is a uniquely Canadian institution. The NFL may be king, but Canadians are generally fans of both types of football. This benefits them greatly, because the CFL traditionally starts in June, thereby adding three extra months to their football calendar.
The Canadian Open has been played since 1904, making it one of the oldest golf tournaments in the world. Its current iteration, the RBC Canadian Open, is a popular yearly stop on the PGA Tour, attracting top golfers from around the world. Additionally, the PGA Tour owns and manages a mini-tour in Canada known as the Mackenzie Tour. Top finishers on the Mackenzie Tour can earn entry into the Korn Ferry Tour, which is one step below the PGA Tour.
When will single-game wagering be available in Canada?
It is expected that single-game wagering will be added to select provincial lottery-run sportsbooks sometime in the fall of 2021.
Will I be able to legally open an account with one of the big American operators like DraftKings or BetMGM?
Maybe. C-218 authorizes each province to allow single-game wagering if they choose to do so. It remains to be seen whether any of the provinces will create regulations allowing popular U.S. sportsbooks to be licensed and operate under their jurisdiction. They could just allow the existing lottery commissions to have exclusive rights to sports betting. We should know more in the coming months.
Will I be able to bet on sports in person at a casino in Canada?
Hard to say. Right now, sports betting is not available at retail casinos in Canada. It is unclear whether this will change in the future, but if it does it won’t happen anytime soon. The regulations created by each province could eventually include retail sports betting at casinos.
What is the legal age for online sports betting in Canada?
Each province has its own rules related to online betting, including the existing parlay-style sports betting games offered by provincial lottery commissions. In Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, the minimum age to gamble is 18. In the other seven provinces (British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan) the legal age to gamble is 19.
What banking options will likely be available?
We don’t know exactly which banking options will be available because we don’t know exactly which companies, if any, will be operating in Canada, but here are the most common deposit and withdrawal options available to bettors in the States, along with some uniquely Canadian options:
- American Express
- Interac Online
- Online bill payment
- ACH eCheck
- Play+ branded prepaid card