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Ontario’s Gambling History

  • Published date19 April 2022  
  • AuthorStaff Writer

Did you know that Ontario has historically been an industry leader in gambling? In 1833, the Elora race track became the first permanent legal gambling enterprise in Ontario.

Then, in 1755, Ontario launched its first lottery. Since then, Ontario has continued to lead both Canada and the world with innovative gaming solutions. Today, it is home to more slot machines than any other province and boasts a $4 billion gambling market - the largest market in Canada.

How It Began

Ontario's legal gambling history dates back to 1874 with the passing of the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code included laws that prohibited games of chance. This was a way to discourage 'unnecessary' (non-sporting) competitions for monetary gain. The Criminal Code defined gambling as any game of chance, including card games and lotteries.

The Criminal Code of Canada 1874 stated that anyone caught playing a game of cards or dice in a public place such as a tavern could be jailed for up to three months. It was also illegal to own gambling equipment, and the police could seize anything they considered to be gambling paraphernalia.

In 1892, the Ontario Jockey Club opened its first horse racing track at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. Horse racing was not considered gambling and was one of the few sporting events that were legal in the province at the time. It wasn't long before betting on horse races became commonplace at the racetracks.

Gambling continued to be illegal until the mid-19th century, but that all changed in 1868 when the Montreal Winter Carnival was held to raise funds for the construction of a new hospital. The carnival featured a lottery, which proved so popular that it paved the way for other lotteries to be held across Canada for similar public projects like hospitals, schools, and churches.

The popularity of lotteries continued to grow during the 19th century. In 1874, charities raised money through lotteries in Ottawa, and soon after, Toronto followed suit.

By 1879, most Canadian cities were using lotteries to raise money for different projects, including synagogues and libraries. And by 1889, even small rural towns had begun using them as well – some holding annual events called 'Chicken Raffles' - where people could win live chickens at raffle draws.

It was not until 1975 that the Ontario Lottery Corporation Act was passed. After it was passed, the lottery corporation was established. The main purpose of the corporation was to raise funds for public projects, including helping implement a modernized sports and leisure infrastructure across the province.

To that end, the Ontario Lottery Corporation (OLC), was given a mandate that allowed it to use sales from its products to fund major capital works and cultural projects throughout Ontario. Almost immediately following its establishment, the OLC launched its first lottery making $3 million available for new sports and recreational facilities.

Over the next decade, they contributed more than $2 billion to almost 2700 community initiatives; of those funds raised, $800 million went towards supporting health care programs and education initiatives. By 1999, when their 25th anniversary took place, they had raised over $10 billion for hospitals, schools, and cultural organizations across Ontario.

In 1999, The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) replaced the corporation. Today, OLG is responsible for the province's lotteries, casinos, and slot machine facilities at horse-racing tracks. Like its predecessors, the OLG has been a crown corporation owned by the government of Ontario since its inception in 1999.

Unlike previous organizations that ran provincial gambling programs, however, OLG operates at arm's length from the provincial government and is not directly responsible for regulating casinos in Ontario - that responsibility falls to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).

OLG was reorganized in 2010 to separate legalized gaming and liquor distribution services. The organization is now overseen by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Government Services. This change has resulted in OLG being responsible for all things gambling-related, including:

  • Lottery games
  • Casinos
  • Bingo halls
  • Charitable gaming

Commercial Casinos

Before 1996, commercial casinos were banned across Canada, including Ontario. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Canadian Criminal Code was revised to allow provinces to legalize gambling under certain conditions. The first province to take advantage of this provision was Quebec, which opened the Montréal Casino in 1993.

Ontario was not far behind; it legalized casino gambling in 1994 with a legislation entitled "An Act to authorize the operation of certain casino facilities." It allowed for three casinos to be built: one in Windsor and two in Toronto (One at Woodbine Racetrack and one downtown on Front Street).

The first licensed casino in Ontario opened its doors on May 17, 1994, at Caesars Windsor. Unfortunately, it would be years before a casino opened near Toronto. This is because the provincial government wanted a share of racetrack slots profits before allowing more casinos across Ontario.

It was not until 1999 that Casino Niagara opened, launching the Ontario gambling industry. Casino Niagara had over 1,700 slots and 40 game tables spread out over 95,000 square feet of space. In the years after its opening, Niagara Falls became a popular hub for gambling in Ontario.

In 2004, the Fallsview Casino and Resort opened. The resort is Canada's largest casino, with 2.5 million square feet of gaming space. One year later, the Rideau Carleton Raceway opened as a horse racing track with an attached slot machine facility known as OLG Slots at Rideau Carleton Raceway.

In 2005 two more casinos were added to the mix: Casino Rama and OLG Slots at Mohawk Racetrack (which is located near Toronto).

Currently, there are 24 commercial casinos in the province of Ontario. These casinos are operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). Casinos offer slot machines, table games, and poker rooms, and many are casino resorts, which include hotels, restaurants, and entertainment.

Land-Based Casinos

Toronto City

There are five land-based casinos located within Toronto city limits - four operated by OLG and one by First Nations:

  • OLG Woodbine
  • OLG Casino Toronto (Formerly "Fallsview Casino")
  • OLG Casino Ajax (Formerly "Pickering Casino")
  • OLG Casino Brantford
  • Great Blue Heron Casino (Formerly owned by the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation but sold to Casinos Austria)

Online Gambling in Ontario

Although online gambling in Ontario is still a relatively new concept, it's quickly becoming popular among residents. With the prevalence of sports betting and online casinos found on the web, more and more gamblers are choosing to play at home rather than visiting a land-based casino.

The Ontario government has already embraced online gambling as a way to generate tax revenue while keeping gamblers safe. As a result, there are many different legal online casinos in Ontario that offer great games like roulette, blackjack, and video poker, as well as hundreds of different slots machines with themes ranging from Ancient Egypt to outer space and everything in between.

You can also find traditional casino games such as craps or baccarat at certain sites which offer them exclusively through live dealers who interact with players over webcam while they roll dice or deal cards.

The Future of Online Gambling in Ontario

The future of online gambling in Ontario is looking bright, thanks to recent legislation that gives Ontarians more freedom to gamble online.

This recent change in the law means that Ontarians will now have access to more options when it comes to gambling sites and platforms.

Gambling enthusiasts can choose between a variety of sites based on what they're looking for (casino games, sports betting, etc.). This can make it easier for people who want something specific from their gambling experience, like playing bingo or poker with friends.

The federal government has also taken steps to ensure that online gambling stays legal in Canada by passing laws that prevent companies from operating within Canada unless they meet certain regulatory requirements.

These laws include ensuring that all gambling websites are licensed by provincial or territorial governments to operate legally.

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