California is home to one of the most expansive casino offerings across the United States. While the types of casinos in California vary greatly, you will be able to find them up and down the state, whether you are near the border to Mexico, Canada, or anywhere in between. Many of the casinos in California are not similar to what you would find in a city like Las Vegas. Instead of mega-resorts, the majority of these casinos are instead small, and often times they won’t have any machine games whatsoever. A new casino seems to be popping up each year within the state, and California promises to build on its already growing presence in the gaming industry.
For more information on gambling online for real money in California, see our California Online Casinos and Gambling Sites page.
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With its proximity to Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada’s casinos, one might think that California relies on its neighbor to the east for its casino and gambling needs. However, that is not the case.
California is pretty much on par with states like New Jersey or New York when it comes to land-based gambling-related regulations. The local landscape is packed with tribal casinos – and if that wasn’t enough, California-based poker enthusiasts have plenty of quality card rooms to choose from. Pari-mutuel horse race wagering is also available.
Other than that, California allows live bingo and has a state-operated lottery. The Golden State legislators are still working on new iGaming-friendly regulations, so for the time being local gambling enthusiasts have to stick to offshore sites if they want to play their favorite games online.
The Golden State is home to 69 casinos operated by more than 60 federally recognized Native American tribes. Commercial casinos located off tribal land are illegal, but considering the number of tribal casinos as well as the size and quality of many of them, there is no need for further competition.
The San Manuel Casino in Highland (60 minutes east of Los Angeles) is the largest casino in California and the fourth largest in the United States, with 220,000 square feet of gaming space, 4,200 slot machines, more than 100 table games, and a 32-table poker room open 24/7.
There is a large concentration of casinos in Southern California, with more than 20 in the Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Other casinos stretch all the way north, such as the Lucky 7 Casino in Smith River just two miles south of the Oregon border.
The state also offers numerous card rooms, some of which are best described as “almost casinos” – such as the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. Many of these card rooms host table games like blackjack, pai gow, and baccarat, as well as poker rooms. The only aspect that sets them apart from “real” casinos is that they aren’t allowed to host slot machines.
Because of a quirk in the law, craps and roulette games are not allowed at any casino. However, some establishments get around this prohibition by using a deck of cards to mimic the odds of craps and roulette as well as the dice rolls and spins of the ball.
The minimum age for casino gambling in California is 18, but to play at casinos that serve alcohol, you must be at least 21.
Online casinos remain illegal.
There are two, for all intents and purposes, types of casinos that you will find in California. The most common casino will be what many call a card room. These casinos generally offer a few table game variants, namely blackjack, baccarat, and pai gow, with many of them also offering poker. Some of the card room casinos are known primarily for their poker, while others will only manage to get a few low limit poker games going even on their best days. The majority of the card rooms in California tend to be frequented most often by locals in the area. These are not destination resorts, though there are other casinos in CA that do offer hotels and provide accommodations for those looking to make a vacation out of their trip.
The second type of casino is what the average gambler will be much more accustomed to. Casinos on Native American lands within California offer much more than you will ever find in the card room casinos scattered throughout the state. These locations offer everything, including, but not limited to, slots, video poker, blackjack, roulette, and all other popular table games.
The primary difference between Native American casinos and the other casinos in California is their ability to offer machine games, as well as roulette and craps. There is a catch, however, as there are no dice or balls allowed to be used in California casinos. To circumvent this rule, the casinos that offer craps and roulette administer the games with playing cards. Instead of a ball spinning on the roulette table, the croupier will spin the roulette wheel and it will slap all of the playing cards. Your bet is placed by picking the card in which you think it will stop on. The card is then pulled and the winner is revealed.
The excitement of this form of roulette is certainly less than that of the traditional game, but it is popular nonetheless. In craps, the game is again played with cards in lieu of dice. Cards are turned over to reveal the next “roll,” and the game plays accordingly. Generally speaking, the roulette games in California are more similar to regular casino games, while craps plays very differently, in terms of both pace and game action.
If you play in a card room, and then visit a Native American casino, you will notice a striking (and financially damaging) difference. The card rooms charge fees for their games. Usually, the fee is around $1 per $100 wager. This means a $25 and $100 blackjack bet would both be subject to a $1 fee. If you bet $200, the fee would be $2, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, these added fees make the games quite difficult to beat, as you are effectively doubling the house edge in many instances.
The card rooms that charge this fee do so because this is their only means of revenue. The card rooms hire outside companies (known as “The Corporation”) to handle all wagers and risks. Since the room does not benefit from any of your potential losses, they only stand to profit based on your wager size and length of play. If you visit a Native American casino, however, these fees do not exist.
California is taking the necessary steps to bring legal sports betting to the state. A referendum for a constitutional amendment is gaining steam and the necessary signatures, but it likely won’t appear before voters until 2020. If Californians approve the change, the legislature will then need to pass with supermajorities in both houses.
The Native American tribes that operate the state’s casinos present the biggest roadblock to possible legalization.
Steve Stallings, chairman of the California Nations Indian Game Association, commented on the measure, “California voters have, on numerous occasions, confirmed the exclusive right of California tribal governments to operate casino-style games. Legalization of sports betting should not become a backdoor way to infringe upon exclusivity.”
Tribal exclusivity or not, sports betting is currently illegal in California.
The legality of daily fantasy sports has had a rocky history in California.
The good: The California Assembly was the first legislative body in America to approve a bill legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports, which passed by an overwhelming 62-1 vote.
The bad: The California Senate never took up the bill and killed it before it ever became law.
As a result, DFS is not yet legal in California. However, all DFS sites are in the state and signing up California customers under the belief that DFS requires skill and thus does not constitute gambling.
It’s unclear if and when new DFS legislation will be introduced.
The eSports industry is huge in California, but as of yet, legal wagering on outcomes is not available.
California is one of the largest live horse racing hubs in America.
Along with racing at fairs throughout the state, you can see thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and harness racing at the following venues:
Along with the off-track wagering options at the above racecourses, the California Horse Racing Board lists 27 other simulcast locations throughout the state.
You must be 18 to place a pari-mutuel wager in California.
There is no greyhound racing in the state.
As mentioned, California is home to numerous legal poker rooms. The California Bureau of Gambling Control lists 72 legal card rooms operating in the state, grouping them by region and county to make it easy to locate a poker room near you.
Most poker rooms require players to be at least 18. If alcohol is served, the age requirement is 21.
The California Lottery has been around since 1985. Along with scratch-off tickets, you can play the following draw games:
You must be at least 18 years old to purchase a California Lottery ticket. All prizes of $600 or more are subject to taxation.
While almost all of the tribal casinos in California began as bingo halls, most have closed their bingo operations in favor of the more profitable table games and slot machines allowed by their Class III gaming license. However, 20 tribal casinos still host large bingo games at their facilities.
Charitable gaming laws in California allow qualified non-profit organizations to host bingo games and poker nights for fundraising purposes. Registration costs $100, and the games are restricted to players 21 years and older.
You can find legal bingo halls in more than 150 cities in California.
Card rooms aside, the greater casinos in California first came to fruition in 2000. Each of the non-card room casinos that you visit today made agreements with the state, and their deals are independent. While there is no shortage of Native American casinos, there are some areas where the competition is much less than others. Within the large state, you may travel for two hours and only see one casino, or you may travel 10 minutes and see several, as is the case near Rincon, California, where Harrah’s, Pechanga, Pauma, Valley View, and Pala casinos can all be found within a few minutes of each other.
In addition to card rooms and casinos in California, the state also has a number of horse racing tracks. California is not regarded as a premier destination for horse racing, though Southern California and the Bay Area do have a handful of well-known tracks, including Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco and Santa Anita in the Los Angeles area. These tracks also offer pari-mutuel wagering, and bets can be placed on these races from destinations around the world.
An interesting, and often times surprising, note about California casinos is found in their alcohol offerings. While patrons must be 21 to drink, everyone must pay. The state does not allow free drinks for gamblers, whether you are playing small stakes or high stakes. In addition, guests are not allowed to use their earned comp dollars on alcohol. This is a rule that many new California gamblers find surprising, especially if they have previously visited casinos in other parts of the country, like Atlantic City or Las Vegas.
– In California, you must be 21 years of age to gamble at casinos
– In California, you must also be 21 years of age to drink alcohol at casinos
– Smoking availability is dependent on the casino itself, with some offering designated smoking areas
– Alcohol is never comped in California, for play or via the use of comps