Online gambling in Canada and the United States

August 13, 2014 10:00 AM

While Canada and the United States of America share many significant cultural, economic and social ties, there are also many ways in which the two countries are different. One area in which these two large neighbors vary is in the world of online gambling. Canadians have a much easier time of things than their American counterparts.

On the surface, the approach taken by both nations may appear rather similar. Both have no federal-level online gambling regulation, and some general prohibitions on allowing internet gambling companies to operate in their countries. Both also allow states or provinces to regulate gambling (including online gambling) on their own. Finally, neither criminalizes playing at online gambling sites from the player’s perspective (though a couple states in the USA do have such laws).

Where the two countries differ is in how they’ve chosen to interact with overseas online gambling operators. In Canada, the federal and provincial governments have done almost nothing to stop Canadians from playing at foreign operated sites, or prevent them advertising to Canadian players. This has led to a situation in which Canadians feel quite comfortable playing at online casinos, poker rooms and betting sites - and sites such as offer guidance on the best places to play. 

The situation is quite different in the United States. There, the government has been rather hostile to foreign operators, a policy that began with the 2006 passage of the UIGEA regulations. These laws made it illegal for American banks to process online gambling transactions. When many sites continued to operate in the USA and found banks to help them do so, the government began targeting large poker sites and those banks, indicting nearly a dozen individuals and seizing the domains of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker in 2011. 

This has resulted in a large-scale exodus of the American market by the majority of major online gambling companies around the world. While there are still plenty of options for Americans who enjoy online gambling, they generally come from smaller companies who hope they will slide under the radar of the U.S. government. Meanwhile, Canadians have a wide range of internet gambling options, with only the most cautious of companies staying out of Canada due to the lack of regulation at the federal level.

Both nations are also seeing a move towards more regulation of online gambling, though so far this hasn’t occurred at the federal level. Instead, both the United States and Canada have seen states or provinces move to regulate internet gambling one at a time, allowing each region to determine if they want to opt in or out on their own. 

Again, Canada is ahead of their southern neighbors in this regard as well. Provinces including Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba have all begun regulating some forms of online gambling, and others may well join them soon. While some provinces such as Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have chosen not to pursue this path, there’s still a significant portion of the Canadian population that can play at government-regulated sites if they choose to do so.

Meanwhile, very few Americans have such options. As of the summer of 2013, Nevada offers real money online gambling, and they only regulate online poker, not other forms of gaming. Delaware and New Jersey have already voted to regulate online gambling as well, and New Jersey expects to have their sites up and running by the end of the year – with both poker and casino games being offered. Still, that means that only about 4% of Americans live in states that regulate internet wagering.

What all of this information serves to illustrate is that Canadians who enjoy online gambling will generally find it easier to enjoy their hobby than their American neighbors. While Americans are slowly gaining more options, Canadians are more likely to have government regulation of online gambling. Canucks can also access more foreign gambling sites, and will have a much easier time processing their deposits to and withdrawals from gambling sites. 

The future for both nations seems to be an increase in state/provincial level regulation with the possibility of federal oversight down the road. But for the time being, Canada definitely has every advantage when it comes to gambling online.

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