Canada Sports Betting

After many years of effort, single game sports wagering is likely coming to Canada in the near future. All the country’s major political parties are now in agreement on the issue, so it’s only a matter of going through the legislative process.

Technically speaking, single-game sports wagering is illegal in Canada at the moment, and has been all along. There are no retail sportsbooks in the country, and online sportsbooks can’t operate from within the country.

The only truly legal sports betting in Canada for now is through its provincial lotteries. These offer parlay tickets, which require players to bet on the outcomes of multiple games.

That said, the government has never taken steps to prevent Canadian citizens from using international online sportsbooks. Some of these refuse Canadian players of their own accord, but others do serve Canadians, including some sites that mostly stick to legal, regulated markets.

There have been several efforts to try to change the law over the years. Proponents would like to see single-game wagering made legal, and for retail sportsbooks to be allowed at casinos. Previous attempts had the support from Conservatives and the NDP, but not the Liberals. However, the latest bill, C-13, was introduced by the Liberals‘ own Minister of Justice, meaning that it should now pass easily with support from all parties.

Canadian sports betting laws

As far as legal sports betting goes, there are two relevant aspects of the Canadian Criminal Code.

The first is that gambling is generally legal, but restricted to lotteries run by the provinces and, in more limited and temporary fashion, by charitable organizations.

Secondly, bets on the outcome of a single sporting event are illegal, even for the lotteries, but other types of bets are permissible. There have been several recent attempts to repeal this latter restriction, but none have yet succeeded.

The result of these laws for land-based sports betting is that parlay betting and certain special types of bets are readily available throughout the country. Parlay tickets can be purchased at most lottery retailers, and all the provincial lotteries have online sports betting as well, with a few additional options.

On the other hand, retail sportsbooks are nonexistent. Some provinces have land-based casinos, administered by the relevant lottery commissions, but the prohibition on single-game wagering prevents these from opening conventional sportsbooks.

Meanwhile, most forms of online gambling not run by the provinces themselves, have fallen into the category of “technically illegal, but tolerated.”

That includes online sportsbooks. Many reputable ones which operate licensed and legally in other international jurisdictions will accept Canadian players, simply because the Canadian government has shown little interest in getting them to stop. This may change, however, once the lotteries are able to run their own legal sportsbooks, as the government won’t like losing revenue to illegal competition.

Legal sports betting in Canada

The only permanent, official and legal way of betting on sports in Canada is through one of the provincial lotteries. All Canadian provinces have a lottery, though some lotteries are shared between multiple provinces and territories.

All of these lotteries offer parlay-based sports betting, branded as “Pro-Line” in most cases, but “Sports Action” in British Columbia, and “Mise-O-Jeu” in the French-speaking province of Quebec. The Western Canada Lottery Corporation uses both the Pro-Line brand and its own “Sport Select” brand.

These products are available in ticket form at virtually all lottery retailers. The retailer will have a printout of upcoming matches near the terminal. The player selects the games they want to bet on, fills in numbered boxes to indicate the games in question, whether they’re betting on the home or visiting team for each (or draw, where applicable) and their wager. Available stakes run from $2 up to a maximum of $100 per ticket. A minimum of two picks must be chosen, while the maximum depends on the specific lottery.

Online sports betting in Canada

Most of the provincial lotteries also have online services. These offer all the same matches and range of stakes as the retail products, but some additional options as well. Despite not being able to offer single-game money line, spread or over/under bets, the online lottery sites often include certain types of futures or proposition bets that can be legally offered as singles.

It’s possible to bet on the outcome of a season or tournament, for instance, because it isn’t a single match. Exact score bets are legal because the lotteries deemed them to consist of two separate bets, one on each team’s score. Bets predicting both the winner and the margin of victory are also available by the same logic.

There have been four attempts in recent years to make single-game wagering legal. The most recent of these is still ongoing. The primary motivation for this is to allow the country’s casinos, particularly those in Ontario, to open retail sportsbooks. It’s fairly likely, however, that if this came to pass, the online lottery sites would also expand their sports betting offerings into something more like a full-featured sportsbook. There are also some legal online casinos in Canada, likewise administered by provincial lotteries, and these would equally make good homes for online sports betting.

Canadian online lottery sites

Most parts of Canada have access to one online lottery site. Which one depends on where you’re located. There are a total of five lottery corporations, one each for the three most populous provinces, and another two covering the remaining provinces and territories. Three of these have separate sites for online play, and confusingly, the jurisdictions for these don’t quite line up with the lotteries themselves.

Registration for the sites is easy, and similar to commercial betting sites. Bettors use the same account for sports betting as for other online lottery products. Deposit is by credit card, Interac e-transfer, or through a bank’s electronic bill payment system. Some lotteries offer additional deposit options. Withdrawals are via bank transfer, regardless of the deposit option used.

The lottery corporations themselves are as follows. Those which have links operate sports betting off their main site, and the link will take you there.

The dedicated online gaming sites are as follows. Only PlayNow actually hosts online sports betting at this time.

  • Espace Jeux
    • Operated by Loto-Québec
    • Serves Quebec only
    • Has links to sports betting, but the product itself is hosted on the main Loto-Québec site
  • PlayAlberta
    • Owned by the government of Alberta, independently operated
    • Serves Alberta only
    • Casino and instants only, no sports betting
  • PlayNow
    • Operated by BCLC
    • Serves both BC and Manitoba

Thus, all the provinces and territories have access to parlay betting in some form. However, the territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan lack an online option. The other eight provinces can all bet online, whether through their main lottery site or PlayNow.

Offshore sports betting in Canada

There are far more offshore sportsbooks serving Canadian customers than Americans. They’re also easy to find, to sign up for and to use, and so far the Canadian government has done very little to try to stop Canadians from using them.

They are still illegal, however, and we can’t recommend that you use them. Illegal betting always carries a certain amount of risk, above and beyond the risks associated with gambling in general.

That said, not all offshore sites are equal. Many companies that operate in perfectly legal, licensed fashion in other countries also serve Canada because they consider it a gray market and the government has done nothing to disabuse them of that idea. Conversely, there are also companies that choose to fly in the face of any and all laws. The latter are a far riskier prospect than the former.

If you are going to play on an offshore site, look for one which holds a license from European regulators such as the United Kingdom Gaming Commission (UKGC) and which does not serve US customers. That way, you will at least be using a product with regulatory oversight, even if not from Canadian authorities. At the same time, understand that you will not have the same legal recourse in case of a problem that you would if you were using those sites from a regulated jurisdiction, or betting through an official Canadian lottery site.

Canadian sports betting partnerships

Canadian sports betting is conducted by the lottery and there are no retail sportsbooks (unless you count tickets purchased at a regular lottery retailer). That being the case, there are also no partnerships between online and retail brands such as exist in some US states. The lottery commissions themselves do have partnerships with private corporations to power their sports betting products, however. For instance, the British Columbia Lottery Commission recently renewed an agreement with Scientific Games to power its online sports betting.

Canadian lawmakers may eventually remove the prohibition against single-match wagering. If and when that happens, retail sportsbooks will begin opening at Canadian casinos. At that point, we’ll see partnerships forged between commercial sportsbook brands and the provincial lottery commissions.

One such deal is easily forseeable, as Caesars Entertainment operates a casino in Windsor, Ontario on behalf of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. It is one of the major forces lobbying for the repeal of the single-game wagering prohibition, as it would like to open a Caesars Sportsbook there in order to compete with the online sports betting in Michigan operations which will soon be opening just across the border in Detroit‘s three casinos.

What sports can I bet on in Canada?

Canadian law doesn’t place any explicit restrictions on what kinds of sports betting are allowable. As long as bets don’t hinge on the outcome of a single match, almost anything goes. For starters, you’ll definitely find all the most popular sports available, such as:

  • NFL and CFL football
  • NBA basketball
  • NHL hockey
  • MLB baseball
  • MLS, EPL and international soccer
  • UFC and professional boxing
  • NCAA college sports

Since the lottery corporations regulate themselves, they can readily authorize betting on other types of events, such as eating contests, chess and eSports. They even offer proposition bets on their own draw lotteries, such as whether the jackpot will be awarded in a given week.

On the other hand, the design of the physical tickets varies from lottery to lottery and their respective limitations can restrict what sports are available in practice. For instance, Pro-Line’s ticket design assumes contests between two players or teams. Thus, if multi-participant events like a golf tournament are offered at all, the choice will be between the favorite or the field.

Not all the lotteries are the same in this regard. For instance, LotoQuébec’s Mise-o-Jeu is more flexible, assigning a five-digit code to each pick. This is more of a hassle for the player, but means there’s no practical limit on how many betting options the lottery can offer for a given contest.

What types of bets are available in Canada?

The exact options vary from site to site. PlayNow and Loto-Québec have more advanced sports betting sites and offer almost the same range as you’d find at a commercial sportsbook. The latter uses the same branding for its onlline and retail products, but adds a “+” to the end to indicate the expanded options for online play: Mise-o-Jeu+.

Conversely, OLG and ALC offer an online product that is based on the tickets you’d buy at a lottery retailer, which come with a more limited set of bets to choose from.

Moneyline betting

Moneyline bets are a straight bet on the outcome of a match, with odds that reflect the teams’ estimated chances of winning. They treat overtime results the same as regulation wins.

This is the standard way of betting on game outcomes, used by commercial sportsbooks in other countries. It’s the default for PlayNow and Mise-o-Jeu+, and available at ALC under the name Stadium Bets.

Spread betting

Spread betting is similar to moneyline betting, but with a handicap applied to bring the odds closer together. Essentially, you are betting on what the outcome of the game would be, if the weaker team had some imaginary points added to its score.

For instance, let’s say the Calgary Stampeders are heavy favorites over the Toronto Argonauts. That might be listed as CAL -9.5/TOR +9.5. A bet on the Stamps will only win if Calgary wins the game by at least 10 points (i.e. more than 9.5). Conversely, a player betting on the Argos doesn’t necessarily need them to win, because it would be good enough for them to lose by 9 or less.

Like moneylines, this is the default for PlayNow and Mise-o-Jeu+. It’s also used by ALC, but listed alongside its Pro-Line bets rather than with the Stadium Bets.

Pro-Line betting

Pro-Line is a unique way of betting used by most of the lotteries when buying retail tickets, and by OLG online. ALC uses a hybrid of Pro-Line and conventional betting.

Pro-Line bets ordinarily ask players to choose from one of five options:

  • V+: The visiting team wins by a large margin
  • V: The visiting team wins (by a certain minimum margin, in some sports)
  • T: The game is a literal tie, or within the minimum margin for some sports
  • H: The home team wins (by a certain minimum margin, in some sports)
  • H+: The home team wins by a large margin

The margins in question, and definition of a “tie” are fixed for each sport. The teams’ relative strength is reflected in the odds, not the margin.

For example, in hockey, the “+” bets are defined as a win by 2 goals or more. Wins within regulation or 5 minutes overtime count as simple wins, regardless of the margin. It’s only considered a “tie” if the game goes to a shootout.

Contrast that with basketball. There, games decided by 5 points or less are considered ties, for purposes of the bet. Standard “V” and “H” bets require the team to win by 6 points or more. The margin for “+” bets is 11 points or more.

Totals betting

Totals bets are the one bet type which works identically at all sites. Here, you’re adding both teams’ scores together, and betting on whether that will be over or under a given line. For that reason, these bets are very commonly called over/unders.

For instance, if the Montréal Canadiens are playing the Toronto Maple Leafs, you might have a choice between over 6.5 or under 6.5 for the total. If the game ends up 3-2, then the actual total is 5 goals, and bets on the under would win.

Futures betting and other “singles”

Some of the sites deem certain kinds of bets to be “singles,” meaning you can bet on them on their own, and don’t need to make it part of a parlay. This is only legally possible when the nature of the bet is such that it isn’t considered a solitary outcome.

Futures bets are one major example. As the name implies, these are bets made well in advance of the outcome being predicted, which usually involves the entire season or tournament. For instance, the team to win the Stanley Cup is a futures bet, as is the player to win the Golden Boot at the FIFA World Cup.

Bizarrely, exact score bets are considered “singles” by some of the lotteries, on the logic that they are in effect a parlay consisting of bets on each team’s individual score. That is, if you’re betting on Montreal to beat Toronto 3-2, the lotteries consider that to be a bet on Montreal to score exactly 3 goals, parlayed with a bet on Toronto to score exactly 2.

Proposition bets

Proposition bets, or “props,” are essentially any bet not falling into the other categories. Commercial sportsbooks include a wide range of these, commonly including:

  • Moneyline, totals and spread bets for just one half, quarter or period of the game;
  • Single team totals, either for part of the game or the whole thing;
  • Individual player stats including points scored, rushing yards in football, assists in hockey, etc.;
  • Other game events like number of penalties issued to a given team

PlayNow and Mise-o-Jeu+ have robust options for prop bets, listed for each match, similar to what you’d find at a commercial sportsbook. OLG has a few, but a limited variety listed in a separate category. ALC is somewhere in between those extremes, with a modest array listed in sub-categories within each sport, yet separately from the main lines for each event.

Is in-play betting available in Canada?

Unfortunately, no. Not if you want to bet legally, anyway.

The restriction against single-game wagering also applies to betting on a match while it’s underway. Theoretically, it would be legal to parlay an in-play bet with regular bets on other matches, or even with in-play bets on other matches being played simultaneously. None of the lotteries offers such an option, however.

Most of the offshore sportsbooks serving Canadian customers do offer in-play betting. These are technically illegal, however, even if the government has been tolerant of them so far.

Canadian sports betting taxes

Sports betting isn’t taxed in Canada, per se. The five lotteries are all crown corporations, so their profits go directly into public coffers. Exactly how and where that money is spent varies from province to province.

That situation won’t change even if the prohibition against single-game wagering is lifted and conventional sportsbooks open at Canadian casinos. The casinos themselves are also owned by the lotteries, so their profits are treated similarly to ticket sales. In the case of those with a private operator, like Caesars Windsor, there is a revenue-sharing deal in place between the operator and the relevant lottery. This would be the case for any retail sportsbooks operated by private companies as well.

It’s worth noting that individual gambling wins are not generally taxable income under Canadian law. Unlike in the US, a winning sports bettor does not have to declare that income when filing their taxes at the end of the year, regardless of whether they bet through the lottery or with offshore sites.

However, there’s an exception when gambling is a person’s primary, ongoing source of income. If you don’t have another job, treat gambling as a business, and consistently make money at it, then the Canada Revenue Agency will consider you a professional. In this case, you must declare your net winnings as business income and pay income tax accordingly.

Canada sports betting FAQ

Here are short answers to some of the most common questions about sports betting in Canada:

Is sports betting legal in Canada?

Technically speaking, only parlay-based or full-season sports betting is legal. Provincial lotteries are the only organizations allowed to offer it in permanent form. Charitable organizations can apply to offer some forms of betting on a more limited basis, such as season-long “survivor” pools.

Offshore sports betting websites are technically illegal, but tolerated. The operators themselves consider Canada a gray market, as the government has neither legalized online betting nor cracked down on it. There is, however, no ambiguity in how the law is written, and such sites are operating in violation of it, even if it isn’t being enforced.

How do the Pro Line, Mise-o-Jeu, Sports Action and Sport Select lotteries work?

You can buy tickets for the Canadian sports lotteries at virtually any lottery retailer. You’ll need to pick match winners and/or “Over” or “Under” for total scores for at least 2 matches (3 for Pro-Line tickets). Exactly how you fill out a ticket varies depending on the lottery, but instructions will be printed on the ticket. You’ll also be able to choose the amount you want to wager, from $2 to $100.

How does online sports betting work in Canada?

If you already have an online lottery account, you just have to navigate to the appropriate section of the lottery website (or PlayNow, if in BC or MB) in order to place your bets. You’ll be paying from (and receiving prizes to) the same balance you use for other types of tickets.

If you don’t have an account, signing up is easy, and works much the same as for any other website, although you’ll have to provide scanned documentation to establish your identity and that you’re of legal gambling age.

Navigation for each site is a little bit different, but in all cases, you’ll click on bets to add them to your bet slip. The bet slip also lets you set your wager and shows you what the combined odds are for your selections and what the payout would be if you win. Your payout will be shown as zero when there’s only a single pick on your slip, as you need at least two picks for a legal bet.

You can deposit using your credit card or an Interac e-transfer. You can also use your bank’s electronic bill payment system to make deposits, by adding the relevant lottery corporation as a recipient. Withdrawals are by direct transfer to your bank account, regardless of what payment method you used.

Why do I always have to bet on more than one game in Canada?

Single-match sports wagering is explicitly illegal under Canadian law. As a way around this, provincial lotteries allow betting but require you to bet on multiple matches at once.

How are the payouts calculated for Canadian sports lotteries?

The same way that parlays (aka accumulators) are calculated for conventional sportsbooks. You have to bet on at least two games at once (or three, in some provinces). Each pick has certain odds, given in decimal format. These odds are all multiplied together in order to determine the payout, which includes your initial stake.

For instance, if you bet $5 on three picks with odds listed as 1.90, 2.20 and 1.30, the payout is $5 x 1.9 x 2.2 x 1.3 = $27.17. You receive that payout if and only if all three picks prove correct. The payout includes your original stake, so your profit would be $22.17.

Who can bet on sports in Canada?

Anyone who can legally buy a lottery ticket can play the sports lottery, online or retail. The legal age for lottery purchases is 18, nationwide. The online lottery sites allow for self-exclusion, but when it comes to physical tickets, there are in practice no restrictions, as identification is checked only to establish age, if at all.

Is DFS legal in Canada?

Canadian law has not addressed daily fantasy sports at all. Because DFS was specifically designed to circumvent laws against single-game wagering, it is not illegal in Canada. However, only the lotteries and charitable organizations are allowed to offer gambling, so the question then is whether DFS constitutes gambling. If it isn’t, then DFS sites are legal. If it is, then they’re in the same category as offshore sportsbooks, i.e. technically illegal but tolerated.

This means that Canada is a gray market for DFS, as is the case for US states which have neither legalized nor prohibited it. You are unlikely to find yourself in legal trouble playing on DFS sites, but should be aware that you will probably have no legal recourse if something goes wrong.

Is horse betting legal in Canada?

Yes. It has been legal since 1969 and is regulated by the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency. It is separate from the provincial lotteries, however, so you can’t bet on horses through lottery retailers, not the lottery corporations’ websites. This means that, strictly speaking, it’s only really legal to do in person at racetracks and off-track betting parlors.

In practice, online horse betting is in the same category as online sports betting. Many offshore racebooks accept Canadian customers. That includes both less reputable, wholly unregulated ones, as well as some more trustworthy ones that operate in a licensed and regulated fashion in other countries.

When did Canada get a sports lottery?

Lotteries themselves were established in 1969, at the same time that pari-mutuel wagering became legal. It was in 1985 that an amendment to the Criminal Code made parlay betting a possibility, while keeping single-game wagering illegal. It took several years after that before the lottery corporations actually launched their sports products, however. These first started rolling out in the early 1990s and were expanded gradually over the years.

Quebec was the first province to bring its lottery online, in 2014, including its sports lottery, Mise-o-Jeu. Other provinces followed shortly thereafter.

When will Canada get full service sportsbooks?

That’s unknown. There have been three efforts in the past decade to remove the language in the Criminal Code which prohibits single-game wagering. The first three failed, but the fourth is ongoing. With the currently ruling Liberal government now in favor of the change, there’s little opposition, so this time it should go through.

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