The History of Canadian Poker

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Online casino poker on different devices with the Canadian flag above them.
BetMGM Jul 23, 2023, 4:33 AM

According to statistics, nearly 65% of Canadians aged 15 and older have reported that they have gambled in the past year in some form or another. It’s clearly safe to say that the Canadian gambling culture is very much alive and well. While Canadians enjoy all sorts of casino games, poker is definitely the most popular. This is evident when looking at the many successful professional Canadian poker players, such as Daniel Negreanu and Jonathan Duhamel.

But where did this love of land-based and online poker originate? How did it evolve into the industry that it is today? Read on for a brief history of poker in Canada.

The Early Days

Gambling was a part of everyday life for the Native Canadian tribes long before European settlers brought their games into mainstream culture. The most commonly enjoyed game among the tribespeople involved two opposing teams playing with sticks and a token called an “idzi.” The game’s goal was to guess in which person’s hands the idzi would wind up.

Another stick game from pre-colonial times was called “slahal.” Its paraphernalia included two sets of animal bones (one with a stripe and one without) and sticks used for scoring. Slahal was also a guessing game, where one team had to guess who was holding the unstriped bone. A correct guess meant the person holding the bone would have to hand it over to the opposing team, while an incorrect guess meant that the guesser handed over one of their team’s scoring sticks. The goal of this game was to end up with all of the scoring sticks, which is why gameplay could often last for days on end.

These stick games, alongside many others, remain an important part of Native Canadian culture and are still played today. The more modernized gambling games involving dice and cards emerged once European settlers arrived and brought their favourite games along. One of these games was called “faro,” a unique combo of baccarat and blackjack. Faro paved the way for poker to make its debut during the times of the Klondike Gold Rush and quickly took the lead as the gamblers’ game of choice.

The 20th Century

Just like in the US, gambling in Canada has endured a legal rollercoaster ride, with various laws prohibiting many forms of it for a huge part of the 20th century. The only forms of gambling allowed in certain regions during these times were charitable gambling, gambling at specific special events and pari-mutuel betting. It wasn’t until 1969, when amendments were made to the Canadian Criminal Code, that the gambling industry began to transform. From there, each province was allowed to set its own rules, laws and regulations regarding gambling. Today, most forms of gambling are legal across the country.

As far as Canadian poker is concerned, various Canadians made history during the late 20th century and early 21st century. When you scour some of the top gambling books available, Canadians Andrew and Mark Rivkin are sure to come up. They were the brains behind the invention of the internet’s first version of gambling payment software. 

Since the early 2000s, Canada’s Montreal has regularly hosted the World Poker Tour. Moreover, the country’s provinces often host World Series of Poker (WSOP) competitions and tournaments. Plus, did you know that Canada holds the record as the country with the second-highest number of players to win a WSOP bracelet, second only to the US?

iGaming and Online Casino Games

The iGaming industry is thriving in Canada. Despite the country boasting some of the world’s most impressive brick-and-mortar casinos, many gamblers choose the convenience of online casinos. Canadians love playing online poker for real money, which is evident based on the fact that the country has approximately 19.3 million active online gamblers.

It’s without a doubt that online poker is the most popular type of online gambling in Canada – and has been from the very start. Originally only available as video poker, new technology has since emerged to allow players to enjoy playing against real people in real time and with a real dealer. Live dealer casino games take the excitement of the game up a notch and keep dedicated players coming back for more!

The difference between playing poker online games in Canada and the US is that there weren’t local online gambling websites in all provinces until recently, as they were prohibited from operating within certain areas of the country’s borders. Luckily, Canadians haven’t been banned from joining the best poker sites operated and regulated outside of the country, such as BetMGM. And now, following the launch of a regulated online gambling market in April 2022, most provinces and territories have their own legal Canadian online casinos in addition to their offshore favourites.

Top Canadian Poker Players

Canada has produced some of the best poker players in the world in recent times. Here are some of the top Canadian poker players, past and present: 

  1. Daniel Negreanu: Known as “Kid Poker,” Negreanu is one of the most successful and recognizable poker players in the world. He has won multiple World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets and is known for his strategic skills and entertaining table presence.
  2. Jonathan Duhamel: Duhamel made history by becoming the first Canadian to win the prestigious WSOP Main Event in 2010, earning him a massive $8.9 million prize. He has continued to achieve success in poker tournaments worldwide.
  3. Sam Greenwood: Greenwood is a highly regarded Canadian professional poker player known for his consistent tournament performances and substantial earnings. He has won numerous high-stakes events and is recognized for his analytical approach to the game.
  4. Mike McDonald: McDonald, also known as “Timex,” gained prominence as one of the youngest winners of the European Poker Tour (EPT) and has since accumulated significant tournament winnings. He is respected for his strategic expertise and analytical mindset.
  5. Timothy Adams: Adams is a successful Canadian poker pro with a strong tournament record. He has earned multiple high-profile victories and continues to perform at a high level in both live and online poker.
  6. Kristen Bicknell: Bicknell is a highly accomplished female poker player from Canada. She has won multiple WSOP bracelets and has consistently excelled in various poker tournaments. Bicknell is recognized for her skilful play and dedication to the game.
  7. Mike Watson: Watson, known as “SirWatts” in the online poker world, has achieved notable success both online and in live tournaments. He has numerous impressive cashes and victories to his name and is regarded as one of Canada’s top players.
  8. Gavin Smith: Although no longer with us, Smith was a well-respected Canadian poker player who achieved significant success during his career. He won a WSOP bracelet and demonstrated skill across various poker variants.
  9. Isabelle Mercier: Mercier is a highly accomplished Canadian poker player and one of the most successful female players in the game. She has multiple tournament wins and deep runs, showcasing her skill and dedication.
  10. Mark Radoja: Radoja is a Canadian professional poker player who has amassed substantial earnings throughout his career. He is known for his consistent performances in both live and online poker, showcasing his talent and adaptability.

Play Poker Online at BetMGM

If you’re a Canadian who loves poker, feel free to join the BetMGM community to play in your spare time. BetMGM offers some of the best online poker tournaments Canada has ever seen, with a broad array of poker variants, including Texas Hold’em and Seven-Card Stud. Along with poker, BetMGM also specializes in other casino table games, online slots and variety games.

Ready to explore the menu? Go ahead and register in minutes via the convenient mobile portal.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.