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Gambling is innately Canadian. Whilst that may seem self-evident in 2017, it was no less obvious before the idea of Canada as a unitary nation had even been established. Gary Smith of the University of Alberta has described how “First Nations peoples gambling on sports events pre-dated the arrival of Europeans in Canada”.
Despite a fluctuating legal status since 1892 when the first Criminal Code of Canada was established, Canadians have remained firmly welded to the idea of a bet. Whether it is a matter of sports betting or the more calculative games provided by casinos, and more recently over the internet, Canadians, it seems, love to gamble.
What it is in the Canadian national psyche that drives this appetite is far from clear. Those reports that have dealt with the question have tended to look at the administrative and legislative conditions that have enabled the industry to establish itself, rather than asking the more fundamental question of where the appetite for this form of recreation stems from.
There is no doubt that the way the gambling industry in Canada is managed at a state level has meant that local pockets of gambling activity have been allowed to flourish. Smith points to the way that two Criminal Code of Canada amendments (1969 and 1985) were ‘pivotal’ in enabling the expansion of the industry. The first was because it decriminalized lotteries and casinos and the second because it allowed electronic gambling devices whilst also allowing provinces to operate and regulate the industry within their territories. In essence, because there was no one-size-fits-all brake on the industry it was allowed to extend into all those areas where it was not explicitly barred.
Against that historical backdrop the emergence of the internet and the de-territorialised markets it has allowed to develop have seen the Canadian appetite for gambling further supplied.
Such is the extent of the market that European based providers, such as Bet365, the UK’s leading online provider, are going out of their way to woo Canadian punters. Specialist sports books focussing on Canadian sports as well as a long list of games and pursuits that are already well-established across North America – not least poker and blackjack – mean that what these providers are offering is a perfect fit for the Canadian market.
There is a sense that with the US gambling industry seemingly at a tipping point in terms of the deregulation of online gambling, these global providers are doing everything they can to achieve a presence and a profile on the continent. The basic thinking is that something akin to a gold rush is set to take place once the US marketplace truly opens up, and that rolling out into the US market will be easier from Canada than from Europe.
If this makes it sound as though the Canadian gambling market is somehow merely a stepping stone that is far from the case. Canada’s gambling market is itself measured in the billions of dollars and it is an entirely viable proposition on its own merits.
Of course, what it is that makes Canadians so happy to gamble remains an open question. Amidst such a diverse and heterogeneous population is it possible that enjoying a gamble in one form or another is one of the things that unites us as a nation? CP