Is it Legal to Gamble Online in Vancouver BC?

Close Up: Legal landscape for online gambling in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Online Gambling Vancouver BCWhether we, or our governments, like it or not, online gambling has been around for the last twenty years. In some places, it’s wholly legal. In others, it’s explicitly illegal. Then there are places like Canada, where the laws are a bit to ambiguous to fall into either of those categories. Those in the business call them “gray markets”.

The situation is even more confusing in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Is it Legal to Gamble Online in Vancouver?

Here, we know that yes, online gambling is legal. We know this because the province runs its very own internet gaming website, PlayNow.com. Thus anyone of legal age (19) and sound mind (that last bit isn’t actually required, but highly encouraged!) can participate in online casino, poker, bingo, lotteries, sports betting, and other forms of digital wagering.

But there are two types of online gambling to be considered. We’ve already established that it’s legal to play at BC’s provincially regulated website. But what about the endless sea of internationally regulated internet casinos, poker rooms, bingo halls, sports books, etc?

What the government would prefer not to talk about is the fact that gambling at overseas websites is not illegal. As far as players are concerned, the law books do not address the issue of participating at offshore betting sites.

In fact, The Constitution Act (1982), which enshrined the ‘Charter of Rights and Freedoms‘ for all Canadians, negates the right of federal or provincial governments to censor telecommunications services (i.e. the internet). Quebec learned that the hard way when when it passed a law forcing internet service providers to initiate an IP block against offshore gambling websites.

The province claimed it was within its rights to do so, because all gambling matters are up to the provincial government. However, that law was challenged and repealed by the court system on grounds of censorship being unconstitutional.

There are only two laws pertaining to international betting sites, and one of them isn’t a law, so much as the ruling of a past court case. In 2001, Starnet Communications International was accused of illegally offering online gambling to Canadians. The courts decided that the operation was illegal, because the company—although based and licensed in Antigua—held an office in Vancouver. The court ruled that a company based in Canada cannot offer internet gambling services to Canadians.

Clearly, an operation cannot have a ‘physical presence‘ in Canada. According to legal experts, avoiding a physical presence also means that the operator cannot advertise in Canada, or directly promote their services to Canadians. Doing so could be interrupted as having a physical presence in Canada, although no such case has been presented to date.

Legality of Online Gambling Vancouver BC

Michael Lipton says it's Legal to Gamble Online in Vancouver BCAttorney Michael Lipton, of Dixon Wright in Toronto, specializes in gaming law. In an eye-opening interview with CBC, he explained the situation for players, based on the current legal statues in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Canada.

“As far as I’m concerned, you as a player aren’t committing any criminal offence by being in a position where you are engaged with an offshore operator playing poker, playing slots, or whatever the case may be,” said Lipton.

So long as the operator has no offices on Canadian soil, and isn’t specifically targeting Canada in their ad campaigns, there’s nothing Lipton’s found in the Criminal Code to state we cannot gamble online in Vancouver.

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