Canadian Online Casinos

The situation for online gambling in Canada is both complicated and in the process of changing.

Most forms of land-based gambling are the exclusive domain of provincial lotteries. First Nations groups have managed to involved themselves to a limited degree in certain places, but not nearly to the same extent as tribal gaming exists in the US.

As a result, it’s also the provincial lotteries that offer the only formally authorized online casinos in the country. However, Canadian gambling law is unclear on whether and how it applies to online companies serving Canadian customers from servers located in other countries.

Such companies have made different decisions based on that ambiguity. Some commercial online casinos have elected to treat Canada as a black market and stay away as a precaution. Others – including some that conduct official, licensed operations elsewhere – have chosen to treat it as a gray market and continue serving Canadian customers so long as the government doesn’t intervene.

Not all provinces have access to online casino gaming through their lotteries, but the number is increasing. At the same time, the legal situation could change. The federal government is working on legal Canadian sports betting, and how this is implemented could impact the online casino market. There is also talk of a creating a privatized online casino market in Ontario, and that effort could, if successful, influence other provinces.

Canadian online casino updates – 2021

The Atlantic Canada Lottery Corporation is the latest to start adding online casino games. It rolled them out in New Brunswick last year, and is looking at bringing them to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as well (but not Newfoundland, as yet). This is politically controversial, however, and it’s far from certain that the other provinces will consent to the idea.

Meanwhile, the single game sports wagering bill, C-218, looks like a lock to pass, unless interrupted by a snap election. It doesn’t directly impact the situation for online casinos, but its implementation might. For instance, if provincial lotteries elect to partner with companies like DraftKings or BetMGM, and allow them to operate under their own brand, it could lead to a similar arrangement for other online gambling verticals.

Legality of online casinos in Canada

Canadian federal law takes a fairly straightforward approach to gambling.

It allows charitable organizations to offer certain types of gambling in a limited fashion. Certain other categories, it outlaws completely. These are mostly well-known scams like three-card monte, rather than legitimate forms of gambling, but for the time being single-game sports wagering falls in that category.

Everything else, it assigns to provincially-owned lottery corporations, and allows the provinces to make their own decisions.

The lottery corporations don’t have a one-to-one correspondence to the provinces, as smaller provinces (and territories) have grouped together, as follows:

  • British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BC)
  • Western Canada Lottery Corporation (AB, SK, MB, NT, YT, NU)
  • Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (ON)
  • Loto-Québec (QC)
  • Atlantic Lottery Corporation (NB, PEI, NS, NL)

All five are currently engaged in iGaming, but WCLC and ALC don’t extend it to all the provinces and territories they cover. More confusingly still, three of the lottery corporations own iGaming websites separate from their main lottery site, and the provinces in which they’re available don’t exactly match those of the parent lottery. More on this below.

Licensed Canadian online casinos

Of the five lottery corporations, only two offer online casino games directly from their main website:

  • Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation
  • Atlantic Lottery Corporation (New Brunswick only, PEI and Nova Scotia pending)

The other three conduct online gaming from separate websites (two of which are also the only options for formally legal online poker in Canada). WCLC’s website is specific to Alberta, yet BCLC’s accepts users from Manitoba. These are as follows:

  • PlayNow (owned by BCLC, serves B.C. and Manitoba)
  • PlayAlberta (owned by WCLC, serves Alberta only)
  • Espace Jeux (owned by Loto-Québec, serves Quebec only)

All told, six provinces have access to online casino games.

The following regions do not have such games at the moment, but those marked with an asterisk (*) may be getting them soon.

  • The territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut)
  • Saskatchewan
  • Nova Scotia*
  • Prince Edward Island*
  • Newfoundland

PlayNow Online Casino

At the moment, BCLC’s PlayNow is the poster child for Canadian online casinos. Its game offerings rival those of US commercial operations, with several hundred slots, a decent selection of table games, live dealer products, bingo, video poker, free spins, progressive jackpots, and more. It even has its own online poker room.

Its GameSense responsible gambling system has also proven quite successful. So much so that it has begun licensing it to other operators, including both private companies like BetMGM and other lottery operations, such as PlayAlberta.

If there’s a downside, it’s that it goes light on promotions. There’s a $20 bonus on signup, which requires a $20 deposit and comes with a steep 30x playthrough requirement. Other sorts of limited time promotions are rare.

On the other hand, it shares the Encore Rewards loyalty program used by brick and mortar casinos in the province. Players have to link their retail and online profiles to share points between them, but can then earn points across all their gambling activities, and even from meals at casino restaurants. The points can then be converted back into free play, either at PlayNow or BC retail casinos.

Espace Jeux Online Casino

Quebec’s iGaming site has the best selection of games in the country, especially when it comes to table games. It has dozens of these, including some unusual games not found at the other Canadian online casinos. It even has a custom blackjack title, Blackjack Casinos de Québec, using the same rule set and table design used at the province’s retail casinos. Finally, it has a huge set of live dealer games to choose from, including “game show” style products and dice games, where other lottery sites focus on blackjack, roulette and baccarat.

Another perk is that it features a veritable revolving door of limited-time promotions. There are usually several on the go at once, with new promotions appearing as fast as the older ones expire.

It’s not without its downsides, however. You won’t find a permanent welcome bonus here, but will either have to do without or wait until a limited time offer comes up. The site navigation and game search tools aren’t as polished as PlayNow’s. Finally, its responsible gambling tools and information aren’t as extensive, as prominent or as well-organized as GameSense.

OLG Online Casino

Despite not having a separate iGaming site, Ontario’s lottery offers a very robust online casino. There are hundreds of games to choose from, neatly categorized and with search tools to help you find the ones you’re looking for. It also has its own suite of responsible gambling tools, called PlaySmart, which includes a separate website dedicated to explaining the games and their odds.

It also has a great signup bonus for new casino users, consisting of a 100% match up to $300 on your first three deposits.

PlayAlberta Online Casino

PlayAlberta is a bare bones sort of site, without much to navigate. Visit the website, and the games are right there. The casino category contains only a couple dozen games, most of them slots. It uses the same GameSense responsible gambling system as BCLC. Promotions are also minimal, with a $20 bonus (with playthrough requirements) on a first deposit of $10 or more, and not much else.

Despite the minimal overall offerings, PlayAlberta did recently begin offering live dealer games, something that not all Canadian online casinos have.

Atlantic Lottery Online Casino

ALC’s online casino is still in its infancy. It only began serving New Brunswick residents in 2020, and hasn’t rolled out for the other Atlantic provinces yet. As such, there are only a handful of games available, no promotions to speak of, no live dealer games.

The company’s PlayWise responsible gambling program also contains very little that’s specific to casinos games, beyond a few PDF brochures covering the odds for slots, blackjack and so forth. Nor are there any tools available to help, beyond the option to self-exclude.

In time, ALC should improve on all these fronts, especially if its online casino expands to other provinces.

Canadian online casino apps

At the moment, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation is the only one offering online casino games from within its mobile app. The other lottery corporations all have apps, but their functionality is limited to purchasing draw tickets, checking results and the like.

PlayNow and Espace Jeux also have separate apps for playing online poker. These do not include casino games, however.

That said, if you live in a province with lottery-operated online casino games, you can still play on your phone. You’ll simply have to play the games in your phone’s browser, rather than with a dedicated app.

This aspect of the situation is one that’s very likely to change when single game sports betting arrives in Canada. Mobile apps are far and away the most popular way to bet on sports, and almost a necessity for a market to be a success these days. Depending on the technology partners the lotteries choose, they may be able to deploy their casino games in the same app.

Games at Canadian online casinos

Those provincial lotteries that offer online casino gaming have a fairly robust selection of products to choose from. These include most of the games you’d find at a brick and mortar casino.

Slots

Slot machines are virtually synonymous with casino gaming for many players. They also translate very well to an online format, particularly modern video slots, since these are digital games to begin with.

All the legal Canadian online casinos offer a variety of slots, though the selection depends on who the lottery has chosen as its technology supplier.

ALC, PlayNow, PlayAlberta and Espace Jeux have all partnered with IGT, so you’ll find slots like Lobstermania and Temple of Fire at those sites.

OLG, on the other hand, uses Scientific Games as its provider. There, you’ll find a different selection, like Coin-o-Mania and Kodiak’s Roar.

For the most part, these aren’t exclusive arrangements, however, and most of the sites also include a few titles from companies other than IGT or SG. PlayAlberta even includes some Scientific Games titles among its IGT slots.

Blackjack

By and large, online casinos don’t emphasize table games very much. Blackjack is an exception, however, as the most popular table game at both retail and online casinos. You’ll find one or more blackjack titles available at pretty much every online casino, including those run by Canadian lotteries.

One important thing to note about blackjack is that most casino sites offer multiple versions of the game. Sometimes these differ only cosmetically, but most of the time they’ll have subtle differences in the rules. Examples of rules that can change from one game to another include:

  • Surrender (early, late or unavailable)
  • Doubling (all hands, certain totals, or not at all)
  • Splitting (e.g. whether you can hit split Aces)
  • Number of decks
  • Dealer’s soft 17 (whether dealer must hit or stand)

All of these impact the game’s expected return to player, i.e. how favorable or unfavorable the game’s odds are. Fortunately, legal online casinos including Canada’s lottery sites must display the RTP along with rules. Thus, you can simply go through the blackjack games available on the site and find the one with the best RTP, which will frequently be in excess of 99%.

Of course, those theoretical RTPs require perfect play. Make sure to study blackjack strategy before you play for any significant amount of money.

Roulette

Roulette is the second most popular table game in the western world, after blackjack. It can also be found at virtually every online casino. Unlike blackjack, there’s no need to memorize complicated strategies. For most versions of roulette, all bets offer the same odds, so it’s just a matter of picking the numbers of colors you like, and hoping that luck is on your side.

That said, not every roulette title offers the same odds. The main difference between versions is the number of zeroes on the wheel, as more of these means a larger house edge.

Ideally, the version of roulette you want to play if it’s available is single zero roulette, also known as European roulette. This has a house edge of just 2.6% (for an RTP of 97.4%), but double zero (American) and triple zero roulette also double and triple that edge, so you want to avoid these.

Baccarat

Baccarat is the most popular casino game in east Asia, but well behind blackjack and roulette in Europe and the Americas. At retail casinos, it’s mostly a game for high rollers, but online you’ll find it available for low stakes in most places.

It has a low house edge, of 1.06% if you consistently bet on the banker’s hand, though betting on the player’s hand is only slightly worse. Blackjack is more favorable to the player, but only if they consistently make the right decisions. Baccarat doesn’t have any decisions to make other than which hand to bet on, so it’s a great game for beginners. The only real mistake you can make is betting on a tie, which carries a massive 14.36% house edge and should therefore be avoided.

Table poker and video poker

Casino “poker” games are only related to real poker in that they use the same hand rankings. There’s no bluffing, or other attempts to outsmart an adversary. Your only opponent is the deck and your payouts are based on the hand you draw.

Most online casinos, including those run by Canadian lotteries, offer multiple table poker games. These include games like Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Three Card Poker, and Let It Ride, among many others. Some of these games involve more decisions than others, but the strategies will generally be fairly simple. House edges vary, but are typically worse than blackjack or baccarat, often in the same ballpark as single zero roulette.

Video poker is more complex. There are many variations of this, often bundled together with multiple versions in a single product like Game King. Sometimes otherwise similar versions can come with different pay tables, which can result in radically different house edges. The best video poker rule sets and pay tables sometimes beat even blackjack for theoretical return to player, but this depends heavily on strategy. As with blackjack, you should make sure to study the optimal strategy for the specific version you’re playing before you bet any significant money.

Live dealer games

Live dealer games are a relatively new phenomenon, having only taken off in the last decade or so. They bridge the gap between the retail casino experience and online play by using live streaming.

Players use an interface not too different from regular online table games, except with chat features added in most cases. Rather than the usual graphics and digital randomization, however, the game itself takes place using real cards (or dice, or a roulette wheel, etc.) in a special studio, with a real human casino dealer in charge of the action. Depending on the exact product, players can usually interact directly with the dealer using chat, and in some cases other players as well.

The games available as live dealer products range from blackjack and roulette, to more niche games like table poker and baccarat, to unique offerings with a game show feel. Live dealer providers are even experimenting with using augmented reality technology to enhance their games. All the lottery-run online casinos in Canada have live dealer products, except ALC at the moment. The range of games varies widely, however, with Loto-Québec’s Espace Jeux having the greatest variety.

Depositing at Canadian online casinos

Most of Canada’s legal online casino sites use the same deposit methods. Though there are only a handful of these, they are sufficiently varied that almost every user should be able to find one that works for them:

  • Credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express)
  • PayPal
  • Interac Online
  • Online banking (using bill payment system)
  • Prepayment at a lottery retailer (known as “Web Cash” for BCLC and ALC, and “Argent Web” for Loto-Québec)

There are some exceptions. Currently, PlayAlberta accepts only credit card payments, using Visa and MasterCard, though it says it will add Interac soon. OLG does not have a prepayment option, and does not accept American Express.

In all cases, there is only a single withdrawal option, which is direct bank transfer. This requires verification of your banking info, and is easier to do if you have online banking set up.

Canadian online casino bonuses and promotions

Unfortunately, you won’t find all that many promotions at Canadian online casinos, compared to what you’d see in a competitive commercial market. After all, the primary purpose of promotional spending by casino companies is to lure players away from their competitors. Canada’s lottery-operated online casinos only have to compete with offshore sites, and that isn’t quite the same thing. For many of their customers, the fact that they’re officially authorized, legal and safe is draw enough.

That said, it isn’t the case that you won’t find any bonuses. They simply aren’t as frequent or as large as what you find when commercial operators are engaged in a spending war for customer acquisition. Here is a partial list of general types of promotions you might find:

First deposit bonus

At the moment, the welcome bonuses offered by Canada’s lottery-operated online casinos all require a deposit. These come in two varieties: deposit matches, or fixed bonuses. Only OLG offers the former, and it covers the first three deposits, with a 100% match up to $300 for each, for a total of $900. Most of the others offer a much smaller fixed bonus with a certain minimum deposit. In all cases, the bonus comes in the form of credit that has a wagering requirement before it gets converted to cash.

Game-specific promotions

Sometimes online casinos will have a particular game or category of games they wish to promote. These are not uncommon in Canada because the goal is less to compete with other sites, and more to encourage existing players to try a specific product.

Such promotions usually operate on a daily basis, and may simply ask players to place a single bet at the game in question, or demand a higher volume of play. The reward could be fixed, randomized, or come in the form of free play or entries to a draw.

Loss back promotions

Occasionally, online casinos might offer to reimburse players for some percentage of their losses over a particular period of time. For instance, PlayNow has run a “Trick or Treat” promotion offering 10% of losses back on two consecutive weekends in October. Such promotions are of the greatest value when used to play short sessions of high volatility games where payouts are large but rare.

For instance, a single $100 spin of a European roulette wheel ordinarily results in a statistical loss of $2.70 regardless of the type of bet made. That changes when you add a 10% loss reimbursement, however. Then, if your entire session consists of just that one spin, a colors bet (even money, 18/37 chance to win) turns a statistical profit of $3.65, but a numbers bet (36-1 payout, 1/37 chance to win) turns a much larger statistical profit of $9.73. That’s because you only benefit from the promotion 19 times out of 37 in the first case, but 36 times out of 37 in the second.

Volume based promotions

Online casinos will sometimes encourage their players to play a bit more than usual by offering limited time rewards that scale with their amount of play. This could be anything from a fixed bonus for playing 100 spins of a slot machine, to a certain percentage of bets being returned in the form of credit for free play. Such promotions are more common at Espace Jeux than the other sites.

Canadian online casino FAQ – 2021

Didn’t find what you were looking for above? Here are some quick answers to other common questions.

What is the legal status of online casinos in Canada?

Only the provincial lotteries are authorized to operate online casinos on Canadian soil. The legal status of offshore casinos serving Canadian customers is ambiguous. Many do so, and don’t meet with interference, but this could change at any moment.

Which provinces have online casinos?

At the moment, six of the ten provinces have access to lottery-operated online casinos: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Do I have to pay tax on my online casino winnings?

Probably not. Generally speaking, gambling winnings are not taxable in Canada, and you don’t have to declare them. There is an exception, however, in that professional gamblers are expected to treat their winnings as self-employment income, which means reporting and paying tax on it.

This is less of an issue for casino gamblers than it is for poker players and sports bettors, as casino games aren’t generally beatable. That said, if you don’t have a regular job, use a system (such as exploiting promotions) to turn a consistent profit at casino games, and treat that as your primary source of income, then the Canada Revenue Agency might consider you a professional and expect you to declare your income.

Is it safe to play at offshore casinos?

When it comes to truly black market sites, the answer is a resounding “no.” They are, in essence, illegal operations, and don’t have any sort of oversight.

The situation is more complicated when it comes to operators that conduct business in fully legal, authorized fashion in other jurisdictions, but treat Canada as a gray market. Most of these are relatively safer than the black market sites, but you still have no legal recourse if anything goes wrong.

How do I tell the difference between a black market site and a gray market one?

Black market sites will take players from anywhere, while gray market sites only serve countries that don’t actively try to keep them out. The easiest way to tell is to check whether the United States appears in the country drop-down menu when you’re registering. The US is aggressive about preventing offshore gambling, so any site accepting both American and Canadian players is definitely black market.

Conversely, having a license from the Isle of Man or Malta is a good sign. These regulators are the ones considered most legitimate by countries that allow offshore online gambling. Black market operators are more likely to be based elsewhere, such as Costa Rica or Curaçao.

Why should I choose a fully legal, lottery operated online casino?

There are four main advantages for official, white market operators over even the gray market sites. You could think of them as the four Rs of regulated gambling:

  • Responsibility: Most gray market sites have their own responsible gambling policies, but these are determined by foreign regulators and don’t account for peculiarities of the Canadian market. Conversely, official online casinos follow rules laid out by the provinces and federal government, crafted to help Canadians play safely.
  • Reliability: Gray markets are by their nature unstable. The Canadian government could, at any moment, crack down on offshore sites, or conversely let them in to the country more formally, but ask them to apply for licenses. Either would result in a disruption of service for existing customers, whether permanent or temporary. You have much more assurance that an officially authorized site will still be around in a year’s time.
  • Revenue: Gray market sites don’t pay taxes to Canada, if they pay taxes at all. Most if not all of the money you lose at such sites goes into the operator’s pockets. Conversely, profits for lottery operated online casinos go directly into Canadian public coffers, to be spent on problem gambling treatment programs and other things that help Canadians.
  • Recourse: When you’re playing at a gray or black market site, you’re trusting that it will treat you fairly in order to preserve its reputation. That’s a dicey proposition, and if it goes wrong, there’s nothing you can do. These sites are outside of the reach of Canadian authorities. Conversely, official sites with servers on Canadian soil are subject to Canadian law, meaning you have various avenues of legal recourse available in the event that you need them.

Who regulates online casino gambling in Canada?

There’s no separate regulatory body for gambling issues in Canada. That’s because the lottery corporations themselves are owned by the provincial governments, which allow them to set their own rules.

If efforts to privatize some Canadian online gambling markets succeed, the lottery corporations will probably retain that regulatory authority, while day-to-day operations of the sites themselves will be handled by private companies.

Why doesn’t Canada have an open market for online gambling?

Canada’s overall political stance leans more to the public sector than private markets when it comes to so-called “vice” products. That’s why almost all gambling has been assigned to provincial lotteries, just as liquor and cannabis sales are handled by crown corporations in most parts of the country.

There’s also significant resistance to the idea of having legal online casinos at all. Many gambling opponents feel that the government should be doing more to try to block offshore gambling sites from serving Canadians, rather than trying to out-compete them with a safer, official alternative.

Generally speaking, Canada is slowly moving in the direction of a more liberalized market, but it’s likely that crown corporations will always be involved in some capacity.

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