Most Canadian online poker players have probably asked, or been asked this question at one time. Is online poker legal in Canada? Depending on who you speak with the topic is open for much debate and the only concensus you'd probably get is that it's a legal grey area. We at BestPokerSite.ca are not lawyers, but have been involved in the online poker industry for the better part of a decade and have had consultation from many industry lawyers. The information contained here is matter of (educated) opinion, but we always advise Canadian poker players who are unsure to consult their own legal advice.
The first piece of information that poker players in Canada should know is that no Canadian has ever been charged with gambling online. There is also currently not much political appetite to quell online poker like we see south of the board in the US. Provincial lotteries are starting to launch their own online gambling sites, however that hasn't sparked much debate in dealing with offshore gambling sites. If anything our Canadian attitude of 'can't we all just get along' seems to be working well. Here are some of the key factors in play with the current legalities of online poker in Canada.
Kahnawake Gaming Commission
The Mohawk territory 20 minutes south of Montreal is a peaceful and small town located on the St Lawrence River. Unless you notice one of the small signs or flags as you cross the Mercier bridge heading south out of Montreal, you probably wouldn't know that you're driving through the internet gambling center of Canada. The Kahnawake community realized early on that they had a great opportunity when it came to online gambling and provide the largest hosting center for North American gambling sites. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission started in the late 90's and have developed into one of the most recognized gaming jurisdictions in the World. Kahnawake states that they are a sovereign nation and their historical roots which involved gambling allow them to continue to offer such services. For those poker players looking for live games Kahnawake reserve has multiple rooms, all fully legal and very respectable establishments.
With Kaknawake offering Gaming Licenses to offshore books including those who accept Canadian players it would become a political hot potato to effectively shut down these offshore websites. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission would see this as an attact on their rights as a soveriegn nation, and considering that this a huge part of their economy they wouldn't let it go easily. Anyone who remembers the Oka standoff in 1990 that shut down a major bridge into Montreal and resulted in one death knows that the Mohawk don't lie down easily. All this combined means that it's highly unlikely that any politican would try and shut down offshore gambling sites offering services to Canadians.
Is Poker a Skill Game?
One major point to consider when examining whether online poker is legal, is to look at whether it's actually gambling. For gambling to have been considered to occur, 'chance' must be a part of the game. Unlike Sports betting and casinos which are considered luck, poker can be argued to be a game requiring skill. when playing online or live the cards that you are dealt is completely random and luck, however how you play them largely determines the outcome of the hand. It's entirely possible that two players given the same cards (in different hands) could have completely different outcomes. There is no house edge, poker players can actually win over time at different rates based on how they play.
We are seeing examples south of the boarder where groups and associations are trying to argue that poker is a game of skill, at this point in time no one has been successful in doing so. Not that Canadian law is identical to US law, but it's an example of how difficult it is to prove such a case (or even get it tried). You can be sure that if there ever was a case in front of the courts about the legalities of online poker, there would be motions about whether it can even be considered gambling at all.
If you watch sports on TV or listen to the talk radio you've more than likely heard online gambling company advertisements. The CFL has had gambling companies as title sponsors since 2004 when they signed a deal with Bowmans.com to showcase their brand on the field. Bowmans has since been bought out, but in 2011 Bodog signed a 3 year deal with the Canadian Football League as main sponsors of the Grey Cup. Toronto Maple Leaf hockey games have PokerStars ads on the side boards. There is no shortage of online gambling advertising (although they advertise with their play for free .net site - which makes the businesses accepting the advertising comfortable with such deals) and some say that by allowing this to go on for so long, represents mainstream acceptance it's hard to use the Code and put the genie back in the bottle now.
As a Canadian resident and poker player you have to decide for yourself what level of risk you are comfortable with. However our experience and knowledge suggests that there is no imminent crackdown like we have witnessed in the USA. And to that, we say good luck at the tables.