North America and the liberalization of gambling

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Gambling is one of the most enduring pastimes that human society has developed, and evidence of the existence of gambling goes all the way back to the dawn of civilization. Dice games were being played in Mesopotamia around 3000BC and there is evidence to suggest the games go back even further.

Over the centuries, we’ve developed more imaginative ways to gamble, but the fascination with risking money on games of chance or skill has endured, from Romans wagering on the outcome of chariot races to the latest in modern online live casino gaming.

Of course, the attitude of society towards gambling has varied widely, and there has been a strong historic tendency to try to prevent people from taking part. With the exception of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, most of North America was a gambling-free zone, at least officially.

In the US, the combined effects of the Wire Act and the PASPA Act made it practically impossible to operate a gambling business of any kind and a similar situation existed in Canada, though pari-mutuel horse racing wagering, lotteries and a strictly regulated and limited number of brick-and-mortar casinos have been permitted to operate in both nations.

Liberalization in the US

In the last few years, however, there has been a dramatic thawing of the rules around gambling in the United States, caused primarily by a single Supreme Court decision. In May 2018, the highest court in the US effectively struck down the 1992 PASPA Act, which had made it illegal to offer sports betting, ruling that this was a matter that should be decided at the state level.

Within weeks, a handful of states had launched their sports betting markets, led by New Jersey. In the space of a little over three years, the gambling landscape in the US has changed completely. There are sports betting sectors operating legally in 27 states, including online betting in 17. Another 10 could follow suit in 2022, leaving only a handful of states where gambling is still heavily restricted.

The major sports leagues in the US, which for many decades had opposed the idea of legalized gambling, are all now on board, with many teams making deals with gambling companies, while long-established casinos have also partnered with online betting companies to provide a full range of sports betting and online casino games to US players in many states.

A global trend

The US has not been alone in experiencing this trend of gambling liberalization. In Europe, the potential tax revenue and the threat of losing that revenue to overseas gambling operators, has pushed a number of countries with conservative or ambiguous approaches to gambling to liberalize and create structures that will support a modern and responsible gambling sector.

Germany has been making significant steps towards clarifying and liberalizing its outdated gambling laws, and similar efforts have been taking place in the Netherlands, Sweden, Ukraine, Italy and other European nations. That is a picture repeated across other continents. In South America, liberalization has been seen in Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia; in Africa, the South African gambling market continues to grow, while Zimbabwe and Tanzania are just two nations aiming to emulate that growth.

In Asia, there is considerable pressure on authorities in India to relax their traditional hostility towards gambling, particularly online forms of gambling on popular sports like cricket, potentially opening up one of the biggest gambling sectors in the world.

In many of these cases, the growth of internet gambling has rendered decades-old anti-gambling legislation out of date, and an increasingly number of governments at national and regional levels are opting to both liberalize and modernize their entire approach to gambling.

Canada next?

So what does this mean for Canadian gamblers? Currently, it is possible to play at an online casino Canada, but operating an online casino within Canada is heavily restricted and betting on sports has been illegal aside from parlay bets.

However, the status quo appears to be changing thanks in part to the passage of Bill C-218 in June last year, which effectively legalized single sport betting. The bill makes it legal for provincially licensed gambling operations to offer wagering on a single sports event, which is a significant first step.

Provinces that have traditionally taken a liberal approach to gambling, most notably Ontario, are already pushing ahead with liberalization efforts, and the significant tax revenues generated by the newly liberalized gambling sector in the US have not gone unnoticed throughout Canada. As the application and registration process is currently underway for applicants seeking to enter the commercial internet gaming market in Ontario, it appears that Canada is taking part in the ongoing liberalization of gambling that is sweeping the globe.


This article was written in cooperation with James Douglas