California has the potential to be an online gambling powerhouse, but the state is a long way from reaching that potential.
The country’s most populous state has a large mix of Native American tribal casinos and poker rooms. But online gambling options are limited, with no legal real-money online casino gambling, online poker or sports betting. State lawmakers have introduced bills to legalize and regulate different forms of online gambling in recent years, but none have gained serious traction.
Californians who want to play slots or table games online can do so for amusement or prizes at a growing number of social casinos. Playing online for real money at an offshore casino or sportsbook, which are not licensed and unregulated, is not recommended.
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Most forms of online gambling are not legal in California, including casino games, sports betting and poker.
Social casinos such as WinStar, LuckyLand and Chumba can help fill the gap. Though not played for real money, social casinos offer slots and a variety of table games that can be played for free on the casino’s website or Facebook apps. Some offer sweepstakes with prizes. Gambling.com’s top-rated social casinos can be found in the list above.
The good news for daily fantasy sports players is major operators Fanduel and DraftKings accept players from California. Technically, DFS operates in a gray area - some state authorities consider DFS legal games of skill, others as illegal sports gambling.
California has several horse tracks and the state allows online pari-mutuel wagering.
For many reasons, it’s difficult to envision the passage of online gambling legislation anytime soon.
The state’s tribal casinos, poker room operators and state lawmakers all have very different priorities and agendas, making consensus difficult. Any bill would require approval of two-thirds of the State Legislature and must be approved in a referendum by voters. And recent history isn’t promising - state gambling legislation tends to languish.
That said, the outlook for online sports betting is brighter than for online casino legislation. Online sports betting has become more mainstream after the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to legalize sports betting, and California lawmakers are aware of the loss of potential sports wagering tax revenue to neighboring states.
California has 65 Indian casinos, according to the California Gambling Control Commission. In addition, the state has 86 cardrooms with active licenses that are spread throughout the state.
California’s tribal casinos:
California tribal casinos offer multiple varieties of blackjack. They do not allow traditional craps or roulette, but some offer California variations.
California’s licensed cardrooms are prohibited from offering slot machines, but offer a large selection of poker games (Texas Hold’Em and Omaha are the most popular). Some offer other games such as Let it Ride, Pai Gow Poker and Mississippi Stud. The state’s cardrooms (many of which call themselves casinos) are spread across the state and vary in size.
|Cardroom||Number of tables||City|
|Hawaiian Gardens||225||Hawaiian Gardens|
|Artichoke Joe’s||51||San Bruno|
|Bay 101||49||San Jose|
Any form of California online gambling law would attract interest from all of the major online operators. Harrah's, a part of Caesar’s Entertainment, already manages two tribal casinos in California, and has plenty of online operating experience in other states.
However, any kind of California online gambling legislation appears to be down the road. For now, California gamblers might consider alternatives such as social and sweepstakes casinos, which offer online slots and table games that are played not for real money, but for amusement or a chance to win prizes. Players can sign up for an account on the social casino’s website or through a Facebook account.
If and when casino gambling is permitted in California, you can be sure all of the operators will offer casino apps that allow bettors to wager on their casino sites from mobile devices anytime from anywhere in the state. Casino mobile apps in legal online gambling states are usually available for both Android and iOS and can be downloaded for free from the casino operator’s website or from the App Store.
Social casinos have apps that allow you to play online slots and other table games for points, credits and prizes with virtual currency.
If online gambling is legalized in California, bettors can expect many of the same games that are legal at the state’s Native American casinos or cardrooms.
Online slots: The state’s tribal casinos offer a large selection of video, traditional and progressive slots. Online would operators do the same, offering many of the same games with updated 3D imaging.
Online poker: Between the state’s cardrooms and tribal casinos, no state offers more land-based poker options than California, so the transition to internet poker would be a popular one.
Lottery: The California Lottery began in 1985 and the state participates in multi-jurisdictional jackpots such as Powerball and Mega Millions. For now, tickets are not sold online, though the California Lottery does offer an app that can quickly scan tickets to determine winners and losers.
Online blackjack: The most popular table game is also popular online as operators offer more varieties and a wider range of stakes with low minimums.
Live dealer: Used for several table games including blackjack and baccarat, with an actual person dealing the cards from a studio. The game is streamed to your computer or mobile device and adds a social element, with players able to chat online with the dealer and others at the table. Some states have robust live dealer offerings while others have a limited selection.
Roulette: Online roulette uses an electric random number generator instead of a wheel. Roulette has simple rules that can be learned quickly.
Online casinos in other states offer a variety of methods to fund and withdraw from your online account. The same payment options would likely apply to California. The most popular methods:
E-wallets: Examples are PayPal, Neteller and Skrill, which store your personal info and allow you to set up an account with a credit card or checking account for low fees. Also can be used for withdrawals.
Play+: Branded prepaid card often made available by your online casino operator. Allows for both deposits and withdrawals.
ACH/bank transfer: Both establish a digital connection between your bank and online operator. Works for deposits and withdrawals, but transactions can take several days to process.
PayNearMe: A deposit-only option in which you bring cash to a California 7-Eleven, Family Dollar or CVS Pharmacy, which uses a barcode to transfer the money into your account.
Credit/debit cards: The most convenient way to fund your account, since nearly everybody has one. Most banks charge fees. Deposits with credit/debit cards can be difficult since some banks still flag gambling transactions even though they are legal, so be prepared to use an alternative method.
For social casinos: Sign up at your social casino of choice and automatically receive virtual currency, such as gold coins or sweeps coins. All offer methods to receive additional free coins as well as the ability to buy more.
Making bonus offers to new players is part of the online gaming landscape. It’s a competitive market and online operators use a variety of incentives to attract new sign-ups to their gambling site. The most common:
No deposit bonus: Sign up for an account and the bonus money is yours. To prevent you from simply withdrawing it, you will have to risk the bonus money at least once before redeeming it, though sometimes it will be more. Read the terms and conditions.
Deposit match: Make your first deposit and the online operator will match the amount, up to 100% or more. This potentially lucrative bonus generally requires significant play before it can be unlocked and is best suited to those who play more frequently.
Free spins: Offered to players who prefer to play slots, this bonus gives players a set number of free spins whent hey sign up on select slot machines. Players will have a wagering requirement attached to any winnings off those free spins, so be sure to read the terms and conditions.
Reload bonus: Helps to reload a depleted account and is often structured similar to a deposit match.
California gaming presents an unusual dichotomy between some of the most pervasive gambling infrastructures and some of the most restrictive laws.
Gambling is tied to the state’s origins in the middle of the 19th century. Gambling became part of the daily lives of pioneers during the Gold Rush era, and that history has lingered despite radical shifts in the gambling attitudes in California and the nation as a whole.
The proliferation of card rooms best exemplifies this connection to California’s’ gambling past. Even with an anti-gambling clause enshrined in its constitution, the card rooms and later horse racing, have prevailed even as most other forms of gambling are prohibited.
That began to change in the late 1980s. The federal government gave Native American tribes on recognized sovereign land more leeway to offer casino games. More than half of the more than 100 federally recognized tribes began casino gaming in the following decades, creating a massive new gaming infrastructure that is not subject to the California constitutional restrictions.
Now the long-established horse racing and card rooms run up against the Native American gaming centers for California’s gambling future. This has contributed to a political stalemate.
California tribes propose a state constitutional amendment to allow sports betting inside their casinos and the state’s major horse racing tracks, with no mention of mobile wagering. The tribes’ attempt to gather nearly 1 million valid signatures for their petition to reach the <p>November ballot is cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic and fails to meet an April deadline.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibited sports betting outside Nevada. The decision allows states to determine if they want legal online and/or in-person sports betting.
Daily Fantasy Sports regulation legislation passes California Assembly, but Senate fails to act on it. Major DFS operators such as Fan Duel and DraftKings continue to accept California players.
Voters approve Proposition 1A, which legalizes Indian gaming on tribal land. The state eventually agrees to compacts with more than 60 tribes, allowing each to operate slot machines and house-banked and percentage card games.
The Gambling Control Act passes, regulating cardrooms in the state with multi-jurisdictional layers of regulation. One unique aspect is cardrooms cannot have ‘banked’ (house edge) games, so generally a third-party player collects losses and pays out winnings.
California Lottery is approved along with multi-state games. First ticket sold in 1985.
Horse race betting is legalized by voter referendum.
California sports betting, including online sports betting, is not legal and may not be for years.
All gambling laws are preempted by the state constitution, which requires a voter referendum to expand any new form of gaming. This is just one of multiple obstacles for legal sports betting.
Though several elected officials have championed sports betting in the legislature, there appears little political will to see it through. California balances a diverse coalition of more than 100 federally recognized Native American tribes as well as horse racing tracks and poker rooms, creating a complex array of competing gaming interests that have prevented significant action in Sacramento.
California will remain a primary target for sports bettors despite these obstacles. Gambling.com will continue to monitor developments relating to both in-person and online sports betting in the state.
Not anytime soon. With no significant legislation pending, California’s Native American tribes have proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow sports wagering at their casinos and the state’s race tracks. The proposal is opposed by card room operators, who would be shut out of sports betting revenue. It’s also a retail-only proposal and does not include online sports betting, which encompasses up to 80% of the total betting handle in some of the states that allow sports betting.
The tribes needed to gather just under 1 million valid signatures by April to place their amendment before voters but suspended that effort due to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s unclear if the tribes will be granted any kind of extension.
Whether Daily Fantasy Sports is technically legal in California depends upon who you ask. The state has not passed any laws regulating DFS, leaving to interpretation whether it’s a legal game of skill or illegal sports gambling.
Major fantasy sports operators FanDuel and DraftKings choose the former and accept California players, so the games operate and will continue to do so. The 2016 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act generally allows DFS and state officials have not interfered. That has allowed California to reportedly become the largest DFS market in the country.
State lawmakers attempted to regulate DFS with a bill in 2016 that passed the California Assembly, but the legislation never came to a vote in the state Senate.
Pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing in California was approved by voters in 1933 as a means to help generate revenue during the Great Depression. The San Joaquin Fair in Stockton was the first California track to offer wagering that year.
Santa Anita in Arcadia and Bay Meadows near San Francisco both opened in 1934 and Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Golden Gate Fields not long after that. Off-track wagering was legalized in 1985.
A longtime national leader in horse racing, California has seen a few of its top venues shuttered and sold, including Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows, along with a few county fair venues. Today, the state has four thoroughbred tracks: Del Mar, Golden Gate Fields, Los Alamitos (also quarter horses) and Santa Anita, along with a Northern California fair circuit; and harness racing at Cal Expo.
California allows online and mobile wagering on thoroughbred, harness and quarter horse racing.
At this time, there is no timetable for online sports betting legislation. As more neighboring states legalize sports betting, California lawmakers may eventually take action, perhaps in 2021 or 2022. With a population of 40 million, California could quickly become the nation’s sports betting leader whenever it becomes legal.
Just about every state that offers legal sports betting allows wagering on all major professional and college sports, as well as international sports. That means betting on the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, UFC, golf, tennis, boxing, NCAA football and basketball, etc. A California sports betting bill would likely include a similar menu.
The legal gambling age is 18, but cardrooms and most (though not all) tribal casinos require players to be 21.
Native American tribes are permitted to offer slots and card games after successfully negotiating compacts with the state. Cardroom owners must obtain a gambling license from the California Gambling Control Commission. The Bureau of Gaming Control investigates the qualifications of all state gambling license applicants.
Tribal casinos allow slots, various table games, poker and bingo. Card rooms offer poker and some table games. Horse tracks offer live racing, with online pari-mutuel wagering permitted. State residents can play the California Lottery and national jackpots such as Powerball and Mega Millions. Social casinos are also legal.
Traditional online casino gambling is not legal, but California bettors can play online slots at several social casinos without playing for real money.
No. But you will need to be located within the state to place an online wager.
The only legal casinos to have offers in California are social and sweepstakes casinos that allow you play online slots and table games for amusement and prizes using virtual currency. The top-rated social casinos are listed near the top of this page. If it isn’t a social casino making the offer, then it is an offshore gambling site and we do not recommend playing there.
At any of the state’s Native American tribal casinos; at cardrooms throughout the state; and on pari-mutuel wagering at the state’s horse tracks or online. California also operates a state lottery.
No. Sports betting legislation has not yet been approved.
The California Gambling Control Commission and the Bureau of Gambling Control work together to regulate the state’s gambling industry. The California Horse Racing Board regulates horse racing and pari-mutuel betting.
The games will be safe if you are playing at a legal site that is licensed and regulated by the California Gambling Control Commission, which would be responsible for protecting the integrity of the games.
If and when CA online gambling is approved, the sign-up process will be easy. Select your online operator, sign up for an account, then a choose a method to fund your account. Once your account is funded, you are ready to wager.
All gambling winnings are taxable, according to the IRS. Gambling income is also subject to California state income tax, except for CA Lottery winnings.
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