Canada and poker have quite a rich history together. Part of the responsibility for the poker boom must fall on the residents in the Great White North and their play on Canadian poker sites.
At the top of the food chain, Texas Hold’em (aka the Cadillac of Poker) still remains the most popular variant of the game, especially when it comes to real money online poker for Canadians.
It’s no accident that one of the most famous poker players in the world, Daniel Negreanu, is from Canada. The government’s relatively laissez-faire approach to poker regulation has created an environment rich in opportunities for budding poker players.
Canada online poker overview
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Consequently, Canada-based poker enthusiasts can play on most important poker networks without having to worry about deposit or withdrawal limitations.
Canada online poker laws
So, Canadian online gambling-related regulations don’t have a significant impact on the lives of players and Canadian poker sites. In fact, it’s very easy to forget they’re even there. The overall legal situation is similar to what US-based players had to deal with before the Black Friday events.
The only difference is the fact that in the case of Canada, a government crackdown seems highly unlikely, as no politician or government entity seems seriously interested in pursuing stricter regulations.
What is or is not legal in Canada?
Gambling in Canada is regulated on two levels. Sections 201-206 of the federal Criminal Code render all types of gambling and betting illegal throughout the entire country. Only parimutuel horse race betting is
exempt from this general prohibition.
Section 207, which was introduced in 1985, allows all provincial and territorial governments to provide regulated gambling to Canadian citizens. This means that local authorities, such as the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission or the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, regulate local brick-and-mortar poker rooms.
The above limitations do not really apply to offshore poker operators. Neither federal nor local regulations explicitly ban sites like PokerStars or 888poker from offering their services to Canadian citizens. Experts tend to agree that such operations might be illegal and should be closed down. However, no
charges were ever brought against any foreign companies that accept Canadian gamblers. In fact, operators are free to advertise their Canadian poker sites all over the country. The only exception is Ontario, where online-gambling advertisements have been banned since 2006.
It’s also worth noting that the Kahnawake Gambling Commission used to be a popular choice with US-facing offshore gambling operators, such as Bovada. In 2016, the Commission struck a deal with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, agreeing to force those sites to withdraw from the US market. As a result, Bovada relinquished its Kahnawake license voluntarily.
Where can I play poker online in Canada?
Canadians are free to play on all the major West-facing poker networks, except for Winamax, which is available exclusively to Europe-based players.
When people say “online poker”, they often mean “PokerStars”. PokerStars accounts for the majority of traffic on all West-facing sites, including Canadian poker sites. The only poker room that rivals it in terms of size is the Asian IDNPoker.
PokerStars game selection:
PokerStars outshines other poker sites in terms of game selection. This is mostly due to the fact that the size of its player pool allows it to offer less-popular poker variants, such as Stud or HORSE. Whether you’re looking for cash games, STTs, or MTTs, you’re guaranteed to find them here, and in a wide
variety of stakes.
Other places where PokerStars operates:
The second-largest Canada-friendly poker network is 888poker. Their overall traffic numbers are very low when compared to PokerStars, but competition is very soft, particularly at the lower stakes.
888poker game choices:
The site is mostly about Texas Hold’em cash games. SNGs are also available, but finding an opponent is difficult, especially if you aren’t playing during peak traffic hours. The site also hosts plenty of MTTs, but the guaranteed prize pools aren’t as high as the ones offered by PokerStars.
Other places where 888poker operates:
888poker is also available in Spain and in New Jersey thanks to a partnership deal with WSOP. All WSOP-branded poker rooms run on 888’s software.
Party Poker overview:
This poker room is slightly smaller than 888poker. The competition is generally even fishier. Nevertheless, taking advantage of those players is harder on partypoker. The site tends to protect its weaker players by limiting micro-stake multi-tabling. Partypoker’s cashback program is the best in the entire online poker industry.
Party Poker game choices:
Just like on 888poker, cash games on partypoker are mostly micro-stake and low-stake Hold’em. The site additionally offers a surprisingly extensive selection of multi-table tournaments and Sit & Go’s.
Other locations where Party Poker operates:
Party Poker has local sites in New Jersey, Spain, and France.
Where can I play poker live in Canada?
If you don’t want to play at any online Canadian poker sites, there are over 50 licensed brick-and-mortar poker rooms in Canada spread out across the country. So, finding a venue shouldn’t be much of an issue. Here’s a list of some of the most interesting locations:
- Playground Poker Club (Kahnawake)
- Casino Montreal (Montreal)
- OLG Casino Brantford (Ontario)
- Caesars Windsor (Ontario)
- Niagara Fallsview (Ontario)
- River Rock (British Columbia)
- Casino Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia)
- Northlands Park (Alberta)
Canada and poker-related taxes
While gambling companies operating on the Canadian market are considered suppliers of gambling services and products to territorial governments, the country does not recognize any industry-specific taxes. Gambling companies simply must comply with federal and local income tax laws, and that’s that.
For players, the situation gets slightly more complicated. If you’re a recreational player and poker isn’t your only source of income, you don’t owe the state any income tax on your poker winnings. On the other hand, if you’re a professional player, you are required by law to pay income tax . However, for a person to be officially considered a professional poker player, it must be provable that they expect to receive a steady income and that said income was earned by an intentional pursuit of profit.
More on poker pro tax status
However, the Canadian Revenue Agency isn’t keen on pushing for such interpretations, as they would imply that all poker-related expenses incurred by the player suddenly become tax-deductible. This would include travel and accommodation costs, buy-ins, computer software, coaching, courses,
possibly rake, and more. Consequently, very few people officially achieve a “poker businessman” status in Canada. Even in cases involving highly profitable players, the situation is almost never clear-cut.
Both the Tax Court of Canada (2011, Cohen v. The Queen) and the Federal Court (2013, Radonjic v. Canada Revenue Agency) sided with poker players, determining that they aren’t conducting a gambling business even though they were consistently turning a profit from their poker play.
The bottom line is fairly simple: if you aren’t a WSOP Circuit pro, you don’t have to worry about taxes.
And if you do happen to sit down at the poker table with the likes of Scott Blumstein from time to time, you can always deduce your expenses from your income before you pay that 33-percent tax.
Legal gambling age in Canada
The legal gambling age is 18 or 19 in Canada, depending on the province:
- Alberta – 18
- British Columbia – 19
- Manitoba – 18
- New Brunswick – 19
- Newfoundland and Labrador – 19
- Nova Scotia – 19
- Ontario – 19
- Prince Edward Island – 19
- Quebec – 18
- Saskatchewan – 19
Canadian online poker players don’t have to deal with geo-location requirements on Canadian poker sites. ID verification requirements vary from site to another, but in the vast majority of cases, a photocopy or scan of a Canadian passport is more than enough.
History of online poker in Canada
As mentioned above, Canadian players have always enjoyed unrestricted access to online poker rooms. Unlike United States citizens, they never had to deal with a major government crackdown. The aforementioned 2006 Ontario ban on gambling-related ads is the only case of a local government trying to interfere with online gambling.
Unlike in the case of United States, major online poker providers, such as PokerStars and partypoker, never had to flee the country. All in all, Canadian poker enthusiasts tend to have it even better than their European colleagues.
When it comes to locally regulated online poker sites, available options suffer from very poor traffic. This is mostly because, unlike similar poker rooms operating on fenced markets in the United States and Europe, they simply cannot rely on a lack of competition to boost their numbers. Official regulated sites such as Loto-Quebec (Quebec) and PlayNow (British Colombia) tried overcoming this issue by combining their player pools on a peer-to-peer network. Unfortunately, the results were rather disheartening.