The Unintended Consequences Of Law

or How Marketers Avoid Canada’s Gaming Laws

Michele Catalano noticed a very weird section on a scratch-off game card at Payless Shoes. The official rules section contained this:

Canadian residents only: To receive any prize or discount, you must first correctly answer, unaided in any way, the math skill-testing question below.

Question: Add 22+16; then subtract 18; then multiply by 8; then divide by 2. Answer________________________________.Like her you’re probably thinking, WTF? I know I was…

Anyway some quick searching revealed that the term “mathematical skill-testing question” appears too often to be by random chance. Clearly the test and the wording are in place to comply (or skirt) some legal requirements specific to Canada.

A little more searching revealed the answer in the text of Games of Skill and Chance in Canada:

Betting and gaming operations are illegal in Canada. The combined effect of sections 197 to 206 of the Canadian Criminal Code (the “Code”) has the effect of making any for-profit gaming or betting enterprise illegal, doing so in language broad enough to capture almost any activity in which people pay money for a chance to win a greater value than they stake.

The casinos, slots and other gambling activities licensed by the provinces of Canada exist as a result of explicit exceptions created by the various provisions of section 207 of the Code.

Then there are the “games” played for a chance to win valuable items, including the ubiquitous promotional contests that are a regular part of many marketing plans. The Code contains no explicit exemption allowing these games to operate. Their right to exist has been carved out of real and perceived “gaps” in the scope of activities covered by sections 197 to 206 of the Code. This paper will canvass in detail the sections of the Code applicable to “games,” and the way contests of various sorts theoretically exempt themselves from prosecution by the addition of a “skill-testing question” and a “free-entry alternative.”For some reason I’m reminded of the contortion of South Carolina law that allowed video poker machines to “refund,” thereby allowing gambling, or their airline bottle liquor laws, or their membership club “bars”… Damn, South Carolina might be the mecca of these blue law busters.

Surely there’s hundreds of other example of the unintended consequences of laws like these. Share ’em if you’ve got ’em.

Gentlemen Start Your Engines!
Zarqawi Dead Or Dying?


  1. Jeff May 24, 2005
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  13. aLLAN yACKEY June 8, 2005