A Brief History of Games of Chance

By Raymond Viger

We know that in this province, all games of chance and money end up, one way or another, coming under the auspices of Loto-Québec. Here, then, is a bit of history tracing their roots:


We have to go all the way back to the Renaissance in Europe to discover Bingo’s ancestor. That means between 1130 and 1630. By the time this latter year had rolled around, Jacques Cartier had already dipped his big toe in Canada’s waters. Samuel de Champlain had just planted his flag to found Québec. Paul de Chomedy and Jeanne Mance hadn’t yet founded Ville-Marie on the island of Montreal – that would be in 1642.

With the birth of printing, the Italian game Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia, Bingo’s ancestor, became popular. In 1778, the one and only Giacomo Casanova imported the game into France, under the name Le Lotto. This great seducer made a fortune by convincing king Louis XV to hold a royal lottery to finance the construction of a military school. The truth was that Casanova personally pocketed a large share of the proceeds.

In the United States, Bingo found a home in fairs. Hugh J. Ward created the standardized game in Pittsburgh in 1920. Two Americans, Edwin Lowe and Carl Leffler, created the modern version in the 1930s.  

In Québec, up until the 1960s, the powerful Roman Catholic clergy banned any and all games of chance. Did they want people to save their money so they could give it to the Church? But in 1970, when the Church’s coffers ran dry, they didn’t hesitate to use Bingo to raise funds. When it’s for a “good cause,” conscience and principles tend to go out the window. Bingo then fell into disuse within the Church, but was picked up by non-profit organizations.

On July 3rd, 1997, the government of Quebec created the Société des bingos du Québec, taking control of this game of chance. There had been scandals – diversions of funds, costs of renting halls, ignoring of rules and regulations – that had led to this important reform. In 2010, Loto-Québec launched Kinzo to come to the aid of non-profit organizations that use Bingo to fund their operations.

Horse Racing

The first horse race ever in Québec took place on the Plains of Abraham in 1760. Races were sometimes used to sell horses by showing off their speed, and were also a sport for the elite, with purses for the winners. Very soon, people started betting on these races.

From 1930 to 1970, Montreal boasted six horse racing venues: Dorval, Richelieu, Mount Royal, King’s Park, De Lorimier and Blue Bonnets. This last racetrack, constructed in 1828, was demolished to make way for a railroad. Another racetrack with the same name opened in 1872 and closed in 2008.

In the 1970s, Blue Bonnets was one of North America’s three busiest horse racing venues, along with tracks in New York and Chicago, with 260 days of racing per year and 8,000 spectators per day.  

As time went on, faced with Blue Bonnet’s mounting financial losses, the Québec government agreed to lower their tax on wagers to 3%. Up until 1993 the racetrack registered a profit.  However, labor problems, as well as the opening of the Montréal Casino, dealt a combined death blow. Thus began a long decline until 2009, when the Québec government withdrew from all horse racing activities. Blue Bonnets, now named the Hippodrome, closed for good.

Québec City’s racetrack closed in 2012. So the track in Trois-Rivières, constructed in 1830, remains the only professional horse racing facility still open in Québec. Is there a link between this track and Loto-Québec? Only minimally, as there is a games room at the track, where we find slot machines and video poker terminals. A shuttle transports players from the Montréal Casino to the Trois-Rivières racetrack for free. Loto-Québec remains a very firmly implanted partner, be it on the internet or on site at their physical installations.      

This is a translated extract from the book Regard vers le future by Raymond Viger, published by Éditions TNT.

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