The point we are trying to make is that there is no single blanket law that applies to all of gambling in California, there are white zones, black zones and some grey zones which are up for interpretation.
In this article, we look specifically at California and the current status of gambling in all its forms in The Golden State.
Read on to understand the current legal status of online gambling in California so you can take advantage of win real money casinos and exclusive bonuses.
California – Liberal or Not?
It is no secret that California is renowned for its liberal outlook and carefree living culture. Point in case is that you can smoke marijuana for recreational purposes legally in California. This state represents the pinnacle of freedom and the epitome of human expression. Considering this aspect of California, one might be taken aback to discover that when it comes to gambling, casino gaming and sports betting, there exists a myriad of legal challenges and restrictions.
To give you a clearer picture of where things stand with respect to gambling in California, we are going to delve a bit into Californian gambling laws, history of gambling in California, and the status of online casinos and online sports betting for punters based in the state.
History of Gambling in California
Gambling has always resulted in discord amongst the legislators of California for several decades. There has been a lot of back and forth about the subject in the past where some have been for it and others strongly against the prospect. The traditional argument for legalization has more or less remained the same.
It touches on the following points – legalization will result in the ability to tax gambling activity and raise substantial revenue for the state. It will allow for better regulation and control and will also bring an end to the underground gambling market which was persistent. Despite these reasonable and practical arguments, the proponents were usually on the minority side of the fence.
Then there was the issue of Native American Gambling, which was even more contentions. Casinos were developed and opened in Native American tribal lands. This had to be allowed provided the rich and documented history of gambling in Native American culture. Tribal gambling was great in many aspects for the indigenous tribal people. It roped in tons of revenue, employed several hundreds of locals, and allowed the tribes to flourish better overall.
In 1984, Californian legislators were confronted with the truth – the demand for gambling was not dying down but instead being amplified with time. Finally, a bill was passed in 1984 which allowed for the creation of gambling establishments, albeit heavily regulated. Cardrooms, horse race betting, lottery and raffles for fund raising were legalized. Horse race betting only came into effect around 1933 when horse race tracks were built and people were allowed to place bets on the outcome of races that happened on these tracks through various betting parlors.
There have been a lot of ups and downs for gambling activities in California, but what is the situation presently? Let’s take a look at the current gambling laws in California.
Current Laws Pertaining to Gambling in California
We will come to California state laws dealing with land based casinos, online casinos and sports betting a little later. These are all restricted and outlawed to varying extents.
For now, let us look at some of the other forms of gambling and whether or not they are legal in California, and if legal, what are some of the restrictions and conditions imposed.
Card games are popular games where a deck /decks of playing cards are used. A couple of the most popular type of card games is Poker and Blackjack. There are classic versions of both these games and also many different versions with altered rules and variations of game play. These games are legal in California but under the condition that it is only conducted and played in licensed cardrooms that are supervised and regulated by Government authorities. These cardrooms generally charge a fee to admit people, which is around a 5% rake. Card games are regulated by the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC).
Slot machines are one of the most popular types of games played at both land based and online casinos. These are machines that have reels with various symbols on them. You spin the reels by wagering money and if the symbols line up to form one of the winning combinations as defined in the game rules, you will win money. Slot machines are perceived under the same lens as casino gambling is in California and is illegal. However, you can play on slot machines which are considered antique pieces (should be more than 25 years old), and even then – you can only play for fun and not for real money.
The lottery is legal in California and there are even state-run lotteries that one can partake in. Some of the top California lotteries are 200x, Ultimate Millions, California Dreamin’ and Pac-Man. When it comes to whether or not you can hide your identity and choose to stay anonymous if you win the lottery, there are only 7 US states which allow this and California isn’t one of them. The California state lottery was established on November 6th, 1984 after the California State Lottery Act of 1984 legalized the same. The first state lottery tickets were sold on 3rd October, 1985.
Horse Race Betting:
Horse Racing is legal in California as we touched upon while going over the history of gambling laws in California. Horse racing and betting on horse races are regulated by the California Horse Racing Board. California is home to several top-quality horse-racing tracks. California is also one of the oldest and most established horse race betting in the country. The first race track was developed in 1858 in San Francisco. As of today, one of the most popular and beautiful race tracks in the state is the Del Mar racetrack in addition to the Santa Anita Park track that is hosts the famous Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The California law books allow for betting on horse races even through off-course horse race betting parlors.
Bingo is a very popular game based purely on luck. Players are issued with Bingo numbers on a ticket and if their numbers are picked during the draw, the player can call out ‘Bingo’ to claim victory and the scrumptious prize money. Bingo is legal in California, but there are a couple of conditions. Bingo is only allowed when it is operated by charitable organizations and it is allowed if it is being conducted in a Native American tribal casino. Bingo conducted by charitable organizations will only raise funds for a certain cause, but no cash prize may be rewarded to the winners as per the state laws.
Social gambling is completely illegal in the state of California. Anyone apprehended in violation of this prohibition can be fined up to $1000 and subjected to 6 months in jail.
Draw poker in California is legal only in counties where the population is not over 4 million people.
Mostly Illegal (except for Indian Casinos) – See more below
Illegal – See more below
Illegal to operate – See more below
Land-Based Casinos in California
Unfortunately, land based casinos are outlawed in California. However, there is an exception to the rule and it is a big exception indeed. Land based casinos that are operated in tribal lands by Native Americans are legal and allowed as per the state laws of California. The reason for allowing only Indian Casinos (as they are commonly referred to) is because there is a rich and well documented gambling culture in the roots of Native American history, and therefore, it is allowed on these cultural grounds. You don’t have to be a Native American to play at one of these land based casinos. Everyone who is of legal age is welcome to gamble at these casinos for real money.
The ruling which allowed Indian Casinos came in 1987 when the United States Supreme Cout ruled in the casino of California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians.
At this time, 27 Californian counties are home to Indian Casinos. There are 74 Indian casino gaming operators that are active and 69 casinos in operation. Furthermore, another 5 upcoming Indian Casinos are in the pipeline for receiving approval to operate.
Sports Betting in California
Unfortunately, land-based sports betting and online sports betting is illegal in California at the moment. However, the Golden State is sitting on a golden egg in the form of an estimated $30 billion a year sports betting market and the pressure to legalize sports betting is mounting.
There was a push to allow Indian Casinos to offer sports betting in the November 2020 elections, but this fell through.
If you are based in California and want to indulge in legal sports betting, you may either bet on horse races or make the trip out to Las Vegas.
Another option is to use international sports betting websites which are not hosted within California. These websites cannot be subject to the laws of California as they are not based within the jurisdiction. However, any gambling activity that happens on such websites will not bring in any revenue for the state or the country. Furthermore, most online sports betting websites and online casinos do not accepted players based in the US.
Thankfully, California seems to be inching closer to legalization of sports betting. It is only a matter of time before sports betting is legalized and regulated. Currently, there is a petition in the pipeline which is seeking the legalization of sports betting and this petition is now in the process of gathering signatures. Should this petition get the nod, sports betting will be allowed at Indian Casinos which are scattered all over the Sunshine State. If approved, US sporting markets such as basketball, hockey, football and baseball will be among the first sports markets open for betting in California.
DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) is not exactly legal, but is not illegal either. Given that there is a skill element to such fantasy sports, there are no laws directly prohibiting DFS at the moment.
The Plight of Online Gambling in California
As per the law books of California, online gambling is illegal. All forms of online gambling, including online poker, online casino games, online sports betting, etc. are banned. However, betting on horse races through approved websites is allowed. Also, Daily Fantasy Sports falls into a grey zone since operators argue these games are based on skill and don’t count as gambling. You will be able to play Daily Fantasy Sports on various websites in California.
However, there is a work around for those who are online gambling enthusiasts and based in California. As per the letter of the law, it is illegal to operate online casinos or sports betting websites. However, there are many online casinos and bookmakers that are hosted outside the jurisdiction of California.
The laws of California cannot be enforced upon these online gambling platforms simply because they don’t operate within California state borders. Therefore, a person based in California could very well register an account with an offshore online gambling website (provided they accept players based in the US/California) and proceed to use their services without any hassle. There hasn’t been a single reported case where someone located within California has gotten into legal trouble for playing at an online casino or sportsbook hosted outside California.
Currently, the near future seems bleak for legalization of online gambling in California. With the federal government not getting involved, the state has full say on the matter and they do not seem ready to legalize online gambling just yet.