Canada has always had an uneasy relationship with gambling. Over many decades, the practise seems to have tolerated rather than embraced â€“ with the industry so heavily regulated. Any operator looking to set up a casino or sportsbook, either online or in the physical world, has to adhere to a strict set of regulations in order to obtain a licence.
The situation is consistent across territories, provinces and cities across the country â€“ but under the microscope right now is Montreal, where recent moves have prompted the question of whether the city needs any more casinos.
The law around gambling in Montreal
Gambling in many forms is permitted across Canada but each province is left to set its own regulations, so the rules vary across the country. In Montreal, it has been possible to play â€˜legal games of chanceâ€™ since the passing of a law in 1970.
However, there is currently only one horse racing track in the whole of Quebec â€“ and this primarily offers the obscure sport of harness racing. Sports betting is allowed, but players cannot place single bets and instead, their stakes must be made on parlays of two or eight selections.
The rules arenâ€™t quite so restricted when it comes to lottery and casinos. Thereâ€™s plenty of choice across the province â€“ particularly in Montreal, which houses the snappily named Montreal Casino on the Island of Notre Dame. Montreal Casino is the biggest casino in Canada and a huge part of the Montreal nightlife scene. Itâ€™s a popular destination for tourists and residents alike, with many visiting for a flutter on the card tables or at the roulette wheel.
How gambling regulation in Canada compares with other countries
The rules pertaining to gambling in Montreal â€“ and in Canada as a whole â€“ are in contrast to those in other countries. The UK is a prime example of a nation that maintains heavy regulation for betting and casino play, while recognising the practise as a consistent and valuable form of national revenue that can be reinvested in public services.
Some of todayâ€™s gambling operators actually began life in the 19th century but it surprises some punters to learn that the first official betting shop was opened here as late as 1961. Since then, the UK has been keen to keep gambling away from the underground and into the mainstream, where it can be regulated and monitored.
Growth was rapid with 10,000 licensed betting premises starting up within six months of the laws being relaxed and even in the digital age, there is at least one betting shop in every major town in the UK.
While itâ€™s completely legal to gamble in the UK, there are many restrictions that keep operators in check â€“ particularly around legal ages and advertising. And this combination works pretty well, as gambling is one of the UKâ€™s biggest economic success stories. It brought in revenues of £13.9bn in 2017 â€“ a 0.7% increase on the year before.
The rise of online gambling â€“ and its legality in Canada
There is, of course, a virtual alternative to betting in the physical world and itâ€™s an area of the industry that continues to grow. The first online gambling website saw life in the mid 1990s and in over 20 ensuing years, hundreds of operators have cropped up â€“ offering a huge number of engaging and immersive online casino games.
While many of these are not available in Canada because of its regulations, some offshore gaming servers are located on the Kahnawake native reserve, which is within Canada. Paradoxically, this is where many gambling licences are awarded to online operators across the world. Therefore, by some measure at least, online casinos are supported in Canada. The grey area surrounding the law means that many Canadians go online to play their favourite games every day.
With so many gambling operators providing games online, finding a virtual casino that stands out from the crowd can be a challenge â€“ but some provide a better service and a broader selection of games than others. Visit Wink Slots, for example, and youâ€™ll find games ranging from small stakes options with regular pay-outs up to progressive jackpot alternatives where the top prize can run into several million pounds. So, are online casinos a viable alternative to gambling in Montreal?
Advantages over land-based casinos
In the virtual world, there are no restrictions as to the amount of games that a company can put in front of their customers. Bricks and mortar casinos are, by contrast, limited by the simple factor of floor space. Thatâ€™s one of the reasons why a city such as Montreal continues to consider additional premises.
The concept of wider choice also extends to the gaming tables â€“ there are a number of different versions of roulette including French, European and American while there almost too many variants of poker to count. Some online poker operators even have the scope to invent their own games, which are exclusive to them and cannot be found anywhere else â€“ providing even more choice to gamers.
Itâ€™s a similar situation with Blackjack and, no matter how many casinos on however many floors a city adds in the physical world, it can never match the scope of its online counterparts.
All of this begs the question as to whether players really need to visit a casino in the first place when a wider number of games with big jackpot prizes are accessible from just a few clicks of a mouse.
With advances in digital technology providing faster connections and higher-quality graphics than ever before, the appeal of online casinos has never been greater â€“ and it is forcing land-based casinos to justify their existence.
Physical casinos good for tourism?
Casino customers will argue that a bricks and mortar establishment will always trump the virtual world when it comes to the overall experience. Itâ€™s certainly hard to picture the drama of the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale if 007 were sitting at this laptop dressed in his pyjamas as opposed to playing at the eponymous real-world version in Montenegro.
In this sense, residents and visitors to Montreal certainly have a choice if they want to have a night out and play the slots or the tables around the city. The aforementioned Montreal Casino is the highlight and the one that most players will want to head to simply because of its size and its opulent surroundings. Having opened in 1993, this outlet consists of three interconnecting buildings and its vast floors and rooms play host to a huge choice of games.
The only other alternative to the Montreal Casino as of 2018 is the El Jumelgi Bar and Poker room. As the name may suggest, this is a much smaller alternative than the bigger establishment and it focuses on poker but that intimacy makes it a popular destination in its own right and this is an important local business.
While we may have exhausted the list of casinos in Montreal, there are plenty more to enjoy in the province. From Gatineau to Mont Tremblant, there are establishments in all four corners of Quebec for players that like to explore.
Of course, with Montreal being the main city in Quebec, there are those who would like to see their own list of casinos expand. However, with online gambling set to increase its market share over the next few years, it remains to be seen whether bricks-and-mortar casinos will follow the fate of the high street â€“ and give way to the comfort and convenience that defines the digital age. That currently seems more likely than expanding their offerings further.