Online gambling in North America is a complicated affair. On one hand, you have the stern prohibition of the United States, where going online to engage in sports betting or to play at Internet casinos could result in scary visits by federal or state law enforcement agents, depending on the jurisdiction; on the other hand, there’s Canada, where people enjoy considerable freedom when they engage in offshore online gambling, even though is not exactly a legal activity.
What is important to understand about the legal status of online gambling in Canada is that it is largely a jurisdictional issue, which means that it falls under the purview of the provincial governments. Under this assumption, a province should be able to regulate whether residents can engage in online gambling; however, there are issues related to freedom of Internet access to consider.
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There is nothing in the Criminal Code of Canada that would suggest players will get in trouble if they access offshore websites to bet on football games or to sit at a virtual blackjack table. Unlike their neighbors to the South, Canadians do not have worry about SWAT teams busting down their doors just because they just funded an online casino account with a bank wire transfer.
Although Canadian players can enjoy online gambling in relative peace, they cannot operate Internet casinos within their own country; this does not imply, however, that offshore sites are legally barred from accepting wagers from players within Canada. To this effect, a Canadian businesswoman could move to Costa Rica and operate an online casino from that Central American country, even taking money from fellow Canadians, without breaking the law.
Gambling in Canada is regulated by each provincial lottery commission, and this authority extends to online gambling. As of mid-2015, the only provincial lottery commission that had not yet engaged in online gambling was Saskatchewan. The provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec operate their very own online casinos, and Alberta is expected to follow.
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The only drawback that some offshore operators may run into with regard to online gambling in Canada is their corporate structure. There are a number of Canadian companies that provide financial or technology support to offshore Internet casinos, but these business enterprises must ensure that they do not become too intertwined with their clients.
Let’s say an online casino operator in Costa Rica keeps a corporate office in Vancouver. According to a landmark Supreme Court decision from 2001, such a business presence in Canada could preclude the company from taking money from residents of British Columbia. For this reason, the connections between offshore Internet casinos and Canadian businesses must be kept at a casual level.