What's the state of Canadian online poker?

August 08, 2013, PokerSites.Ca  

Unless you’re in a nation that directly regulates online poker using one system across the board, you’re likely to have at least a few questions about the state of online poker where you live. Canada is definitely an example of a place in which it can be difficult to work out exactly what the status of online poker is at the moment, especially if you’re not familiar with the complex interweaving of federal and provincial laws.

That said, the state of Canadian online poker isn’t all that hard to understand once you sort through all of the information that’s out there. There are many good websites for Canadian poker players out there, like PokerSites.ca, that offer great advice. But to get you started we are going to give you a brief summary of where online poker stands in Canada.

Online Poker at the Federal Level

Here’s the big takeaway for the question that everyone asks about first: online poker is not illegal for you to play, regardless of what province or territory you may live in. Canadians can play at a wide variety of foreign-run online poker sites without any fear of repercussions from the Canadian government.

That said, from another perspective, you could say that online poker is illegal in Canada. Companies are not permitted to set up online gambling sites in Canada, except in partnership with provincial governments (which we’ll talk about more in a bit).

Foreign sites are not under the regulation of the Canadian government, however, which is why they have been successful in promoting online poker throughout Canada, and why players have found that they can play at these sites without fear of breaking the law.

It is also worth noting that there are exceptions for aboriginal First Nations groups. For instance, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake regulates a large number of online gambling sites through the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. The Commission’s right to do so has been upheld, with no jurisdiction seeking to challenge whether they had the right to do so.

Online Poker in the Provinces

The most interesting developments in online poker have come at the provincial level. While Canadians have been able to play at foreign sites, they did not have locally regulated options, at which many players would feel much more comfortable playing. In addition, provincial governments realized that there were large potential tax revenues that they were missing out on because of the outflow of poker and casino play at foreign sites.

Given these concerns, it came as no surprise when Canadian provinces began regulating online gambling on their own in recent years. While not every province has decided to do so, regulating online poker and gambling has proven popular. Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba are running regulated online gambling sites, with Ontario expected to launch its first Internet gambling sites this year.

Other provinces have instead said that they will not be pursuing online gambling regulation in the near future. Included among these are Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Online Poker Sites and Canada

At the moment, almost all online poker sites offer their products in Canada. There are a handful of sites that have chosen to stay away from Canadian players because of the lack of firm regulation in the country as a whole, but all of the major sites have a presence in the country and are willing to take players. Even in those provinces where online gambling has been regulated, provincial governments have taken few, if any, steps to prevent players from participating at foreign sites.

At some online poker sites, players may even find that they can play at tables using Canadian dollars. While this is rare, it is common practice for sites to now allow players to hold their account balances in Canadian dollars, making it much easier to avoid concerns about exchange rates.