The Historical Story of Gambling in Canada

Gambling in Canada has become a normal part of society for many, but its development through the years has brought it to where it is today. From traditions to prohibition and legalization, it has changed in many ways and there is a belief that it will continue to evolve moving forward. So, let’s take a look at how the gambling industry has got to where it is today. 

Early History of Gambling in Canada – Pre-European Contact to 1890s)

Long before Europeans arrived, Indigenous communities in Canada were already shaping the story of gambling. Their games weren’t just about luck; they were lively parts of their social and ceremonial traditions. It might have started with bone games played outdoors, where it wasn’t necessarily about winning or losing but more about creating an experience that was shared with others.

Then came the Europeans, not just with goods but with new games—blackjack, poker, and roulette. Canada’s gambling history widened, absorbing these games into the mix of shared pastimes. It wasn’t just about dealing cards; it was a cultural exchange, a blend of traditions that caused significant change. Here we saw chance being played out with the shuffling of cards, and this is where change became clearly apparent.

These weren’t just games, they helped to forge connections, where chance wasn’t just a roll of the dice but a link between the old and the new. The history of gambling in Canada, in those early days, was a conversation scripted in the language of chance and played out against the backdrop of a country that was changing.

Prohibition of Gambling – 1890s to Early 20th Century

As the 19th century unfolded, Canada faced a period of prohibition, an attempt to dim the lights of gambling spots. Concerns about potential negative impacts on society led to legal lines being drawn around gambling activities. However, these boundaries proved leaky, as the attraction of chance lingered in hidden corners despite the imposed restrictions.

The prohibition era wasn’t a complete blackout; it was a tug-of-war between legality and the love of playing games where chance was involved. The dice kept rolling, and cards found new hands in concealed spaces, as people attempted to get around the legalities of prohibition. The ban became a battle of defiance, where the laws were written but people decided to take their own chances by playing games in dimly lit rooms.

The attempted prohibition was a dance between authority and the resilience of human amusement, where, despite legal barricades, the appeal of gambling continued. It was a contrasting era, where societal concerns about the negative impacts of gambling collided with the appeal of chance, something that shaped the world of gambling in Canada.

Legalisation of Gambling – Early 20th Century to Present

In the early 20th century, there was a burgeoning movement advocating for the legalization of gambling, fuelled by the notion that it could generate substantial revenue for the government. Quebec emerged as a key player in 1910 when it pioneered the introduction of the first government-operated lottery. This move hinted at the prospective advantages associated with the legalization of gambling. The scope of legitimacy expanded further with the rise of pari-mutuel betting in 1921, creating a space where wagers were not just allowed but also regulated.

As history unfolded, the iconic sounds of slot machines became the soundtrack of the 1960s and 1970s, symbolizing a period of substantial growth in the gambling industry. This form of legalized gambling, composed over the decades, not only brought in revenue but also reshaped the cultural and economic position of Canada.

The Modern Gambling Industry – Present Day

Today, the gambling scene is lively, offering diverse options like casinos, lotteries, and various forms of betting. This thriving industry, consisting of big names like powerplay, not only contributes significantly to the country’s revenue but also plays a crucial role in job creation. The regulatory oversight of this lively sector falls within provincial and territorial governments, in alignment with the directives provided by the federal government.

Looking into the future, there’s a persistent expectation that the gambling industry will undergo growth, especially with the rising allure and accessibility of online gambling. This upswing is driven not only by technological advancements but also by the curiosity to explore the diverse array of games available at the click of a button.


The gambling industry in Canada holds a rich history and tradition, deeply embedded in society as a way of life for many, both personally and professionally. With substantial social and economic impacts, its influence is expected to endure for years.

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