Online poker players in Canada will have access to fully licensed and regulated poker sites after April 4. On this date, the first poker rooms in Ontario will go live, creating a fresh and safe market monitored by a local regulatory today.
So far, Ontario is the only province in Canada to pass an online poker law. Other provinces will likely follow in the future, but they might be waiting to see what happens in Ontario first.
At the moment, Canadian players can access offshore sites licensed by international authorities, like the MGA. Prior to the regulation, online poker in Canada was a grey area and poker sites catered to the players in the country as there was no strong pushback against it.
After April 4, all this is about to change. Several major operators have already secured their Ontario licenses and several more are in the process to obtain them. To receive and keep their Ontario licenses, though, sites will have to stop catering to players in other parts of the country.
On this page, we are bringing you all the information about regulated online poker in Canada and what to expect from the new market. Some details of the law are still unclear but this will all change once the official launch happens.
Regulated Online Poker in Ontario
Regulated online poker in Ontario starts on April 4, 2022. On this day, all operators that had managed to secure their licenses from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will have a green light to start spreading real money games and tournaments for Canadian players.
To start with, it seems Ontario will launch as a segregated market. This means that only players from Ontario will be able to register and play on the sites, while other provinces will not be a part of the deal, at least not from the get-go.
Rooms that do go live in Ontario under new licenses will, in all likelihood, leave the general Canadian market, and this includes almost all major operators. Thus, there is the bitter-sweet feeling about the new law.
On one hand, poker players from Ontario will be able to play on locally licensed and fully regulated sites. On the other, they will be cut off from the global player pool, and players from other parts of Canada will no longer have access to international sites, severely reducing their options.
What Poker Rooms Are Expected in Ontario?
With the official launch date just a few weeks away, we already have a good amount of information on what operators will likely join the Ontario market. In fact, some of them have already been granted licenses, while others are in the process of obtaining them and will likely follow shortly.
888 has been granted all relevant iGaming license, including the one that allows the operator to launch real money poker games in Ontario after April 4. With this license in place, it is likely we will see 888poker Ontario as one of the first fully licensed rooms to go live in the province.
PokerStars has expressed interest to join the regulated Ontario market, and it is likely we will see PokerStars Ontario go live in the near future. That said, at the moment, the room is still to receive a license from the regulator.
Given close ties the PokerStars parent company has to Canada, it would be strange for the room not to have a presence in Ontario. However, it seems the operator is weighing its options at the moment and perhaps waiting for bit more clarity on how the market will work before the final decision.
WSOP is another poker site that already has a gaming license in place and will likely launch as soon as the Ontario market is officially open. Interestingly enough, for its Canada business operation, WSOP has decided to partner up with GGPoker and not 888, its long-standing partner in the US.
These technicalities aside, this is good news for Canada poker players, as they will have access to one of the major poker sites right from the get go. It is reasonable to expect the room will launch with some generous promotions and interesting tournaments to seize its position in Ontario and Canada.
Online Poker in Canada & Shared Liquidity
From everything we know so far, it seems that regulated online poker in Canada will be set up in a similar fashion to the US market. Namely, provinces will be in charge of issuing licenses for the operators, and the operators will only be able to offers games to players located inside the province.
With Ontario being the only CA province with online poker law ready to go, this means that players from Ontario will not be able to mix with other players from Canada and will not have access to the global player pool.
This creates the same dilemma that is present in the US, i.e. could provinces work together to combine their player pools and create a bigger and healthier online poker environment?
Licensed online poker already exists in Canada outside of Ontario, but it is powered by provinces themselves. These poker sites exist in Manitoba, British Columbia, and Quebec. In first two, players can access poker games via PlayNow, while Loto Quebec is the official site in the third.
The main difference between these sites and the ones going live in Ontario is that this is the first time that private companies will have access to the market. All Canadian poker sites until now have been government monopoly.
Canadian poker sites in BC, Manitoba, and Quebec are powered by outdated IGT software, which is not great for the players. In Ontario, players will have access to top-quality platforms powered by major companies.
It remains to be seen how the situation will develop in the future. Once Ontario has online poker in place, it is possible for other provinces to come together and form some sort of a network. For that to happen, though, quite a few political and administrative hurdles need to be removed first.
Bonuses and Promotions at Canada Poker Sites
With the official launch still pending, we cannot say with any certainty what kind of bonuses Canadian players can expect. That said, with major operators like WSOP and 888poker going live in Ontario, it is safe to assume there will be some generous promotions to kick things off.
At the very least, new players will likely benefit from big welcome offers to match their first deposits, and there could be some free funds thrown into the mix as well. Deposit match bonuses in the $500 – $1000 range seem very realistic.
However, there are still some things that need to be ironed out.
Many Canadian poker players already have accounts with sites like 888 and PokerStars. If and when these sites go live in Ontario under their new licenses, it is still unclear if they will need to make new accounts or their old accounts will somehow be transferred to the new platform.
Looking at experiences from similar developments in the past, it is quite likely that all players will need to make fresh accounts. Of course, this would be beneficial for the players, as everyone would become eligible for a new welcome bonus.
How to Recognize a Legal Online Poker Site in Canada
At the moment, many poker sites operate in the “grey zone” in the country. This will likely continue even after April 4, as those rooms that do not have plans to obtain a license will likely continue to cater to Canadians for as long as they can.
Given all this, it is important to know how to recognize a safe, legal, and fully licensed Canadian poker site and distinguish it from offshore operators.
- Ontario license: The first and the most obvious sign that a poker site is licensed in Canada will be its licensing information clearly displayed somewhere in the footer. All regulated sites will have this info clearly visible to avoid any confusion.
- Geolocation requirements: Since online poker in Canada will be segregated by provinces at first, all regulated sites will have geolocation measures in place to prevent players from other provinces or outside of Canada from accessing the room.
- Play in CAD: Legal and regulated CA poker sites will feature all transactions and all play in the local currency, i.e. Canadian dollar. If a site is offering different currencies and buy-ins are not expressed in CAD, it is probably not a legal Canadian site.
- Cryptocurrencies not supported: While cryptocurrencies have seen a significant rise in recent years, you will find that no major operator has adopted them as of yet. The same goes for licensed CA sites. If a room accepts cryptocurrency deposits, you can be certain they do not have an Ontario license.
Why Choose a Legal Canadian Online Poker Site
While there are some downsides to legal CA poker sites at this time, there are many more advantages you should be aware of as a player. The list of reasons why you should stick to licensed Ontario sites is a long one, but some of the most important points are:
- Full accountability: Poker sites regulated by local CA authorities have to adhere to very strict rules. In the event any of these are broken, regulators have full power to step in and do whatever is required to ensure players are protected. In the event of serious infractions, sites can even lose their licenses.
- Local currency & payment options: A big advantage of locally-licensed sites is that they offer play in CAD and support local payment options. This means you will never have problems with deposits or withdrawals, and there will be no conversion fees to worry about. It helps save you money and gives you better control over your expenses.
- Responsible gaming & player protection: Licensed Ontario poker sites offer a full range of responsible gaming tools. This ensures players can enjoy their gaming sessions in a safe and responsible manner.
- Benefits to local communities: With local CA poker sites, a portion of the money earned by the operator will always go towards local communities. Unlike offshore sites that do not have any such responsibilities, licensed Canadian operators have to pay their dues.
Risks of Playing at Offshore Online Poker Sites
Players in Canada have been playing at offshore poker sites for many years. While there have always been certain risks connected to this practice, these will only increase once top—tier operators receive their local licenses and withdraw from the general market. The ones remaining will likely be smaller sites that do not mind operating against the laws, which increases the risks for the players.
- Funds safety: The first and the most obvious risk connected with offshore sites is the safety of the funds placed with such sites. If you are not able to withdraw your money for any reason, you will have no organization to complain to.
- Your personal info is at risk: Offshore sites that are not monitored by reliable licensing authorities will sometimes give out their players personal information to outside parties. This can create a lot of problems, from minor inconveniences to serious legal issues in the most extreme cases.
- Lack of RG tools: Unlike licensed CA online poker sites, offshore operators do not have the obligation to provide responsible gambling tools, or at least not at the same level as the legal ones.
Where in Canada can I play legal online poker?
At the moment, Ontario is the leading CA province offering safe, licensed, and regulated online poker. You can also access locally-licensed poker sites in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec, but these are powered by outdated software and government-owned.
Who licenses online poker sites in Canada?
In Canada, iGaming licenses, including online poker ones, are issued by provinces and their respective licensing bodies. In Ontario, for example, this is done by a subdivision of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
Does Ontario share liquidity with other Canadian provinces?
No, at least not at this time. Poker sites in Ontario cater only to players inside the province. You cannot access Ontario poker sites from other provinces or from outside of Canada. This may change in the future as provinces form treaties to allow them to share player pools but there is no reliable information as to when this might happen.
Do I have to be in Ontario to play on an Ontario-licensed poker site?
Yes, you can only play from inside of Ontario. In fact, players will probably need to have a physical address inside the province to even be able to register for an account with an Ontario-licensed poker site.
How can I know an online poker site is legal in Canada?
The best way to know for sure is by checking the information in the site footer. All Canada online poker sites will display information about its license issued by the relevant provincial body.