According to statistics, nearly 65% of Canadians aged 15 and older have reported gambling 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 poker pros from Canada, such as Daniel Negreanu and Jonathan Duhamel.
But where did this love for 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 modernised 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 take 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 chunk 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 poker is concerned, various Canadians made history during the late 20th century and early 21st century. Andrew and Mark Rivkin were the brains behind the invention of the internet’s first version of gambling payment software. Later on, gambling-loving brothers Isai and Mark Scheinberg spearheaded PokerStars.com.
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, such as the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort, 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 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.
Play poker online at BetMGM
If you’re a Canadian who loves poker, you can feel free to join the BetMGM community to play in your spare time. We offer some of the best online poker Canada has ever seen, with a broad array of poker variants, including Texas Hold’em and Seven Card Stud. Along with poker, we also specialize in other casino table games, online slots and variety games.
Ready to explore the menu? Go ahead and register in minutes via our convenient mobile portal.