Canada averts unintentional online gambling ban


The Canadian government was doing a little end-of-the-year cleanup with a "housekeeping" bill that almost made online gambling illegal in Canada. Fortunately, Senator George Baker noticed the problem before the bill passed, when it got to the Senate floor.

According to the Law Times, what Baker found was that some minor amendments to modernize bookmaking laws by removing Criminal Code references to telephone and telegraph could cause problems for home gamblers and Internet gambling services.

Baker told Law Times the new amendments had gone through four House of Commons committee hearings with no mention of how the changes could affect online gamblers.

"There is a big market for Internet gambling in Canada," he said in the article. "Online poker is huge. This bill will end that, and that has not been brought up by anyone."

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and his department lawyers have tried to assure lawmakers and the online gambling industry that the change wouldn't alter the legal status of offshore-based online gambling in Canada.

However, Mitch Garber, PartyGaming CEO, as well as Montreal lawyer Brahm Gelfand, PartyGaming's international advisory committee chair, and former RCMP commissioner Norman Inkster, who is an adviser to PartyGaming, have spoken to the Canadian government about clarifying the changes.

Garber testified that it was unclear whether the new law would ban online gambling sites based abroad from serving Canadian customers.

Currently, offshore gambling sites are legal in Canada while domestic gaming sites aren't allowed because of provincial jurisdiction over licensing casinos.

Garber, Inkster and Gelfand all talked to the government about making the law crystal-clear, leaving no doubt as to what is legal or illegal when it comes to online gambling, to avoid any problems.

Lawmakers have reiterated that the changes will only affect bookmaking, but the Law Times said even Senator Raynell Andreychuk, a former judge and Crown prosecutor in Saskatchewan who sits on the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, seemed unsure when she attempted to explain the change last week.

She wasn't clear about what forms of online gambling are currently legal in Canada, or whether bookmakers subject to the law would be outside or inside Canada. She commented that the law needs to be clarified.

According to the Law Times, Garber said he was told later by Senator Don Oliver that the Senate would recommend that the Commons amend the bill to clarify the continuing legality of offshore-based online gambling in Canada.

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