California Casinos & Gambling

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.

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California Casinos

Bay 101
Cache Creek Casino Resort
Capitol Casino Sacramento
Commerce
The Gardens
Harrah’s Resort Southern California
Hollywood Park
Hustler
Lucky Chances
M8trix
San Manuel

Gambling in California

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.

Types of Casinos in California

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.

Differences Between California Card Rooms and Tribal Casinos

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.

Native American vs Other Casinos

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.

Table Game Fees

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 Sportsbooks & Sports betting

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.

Fantasy sports gambling and eSports

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.

Animal racing

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:

  • Santa Anita Park (Arcadia): Thoroughbred meets from December to June and September to November
  • Del Mar (Del Mar): Thoroughbred meets from July to early September and late September to December
  • Los Alamitos (Cypress): Thoroughbred meets in June, July, and December, and Quarter Horse meets year-round
  • Golden Gate Fields (Berkeley): Thoroughbred meets from January to June and August to December
  • Cal-Expo (Sacramento): Harness meets from December to May and October to December

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.

California Poker Games

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.

Lottery

The California Lottery has been around since 1985. Along with scratch-off tickets, you can play the following draw games:

  • Hot Spot
  • Daily Derby
  • Daily 3
  • Daily 4
  • Fantasy 5
  • SuperLotto Plus
  • Mega Millions (multi-state)
  • Powerball (multi-state)

You must be at least 18 years old to purchase a California Lottery ticket. All prizes of $600 or more are subject to taxation.

Bingo

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.

California Real Money Online Casinos

State-level regulations are rather permissive in California – participating in illegal gambling as a player is considered a misdemeanor and there are no laws criminalizing the act of playing real money games online. Consequently, local gamblers don’t have to worry about being prosecuted if they decide to join an offshore internet casino, sportsbook or poker site. However, it’s worth pointing out that many counties have their own local gambling-related regulations, so if you want to stay perfectly safe, you should familiarize yourself with those regulations before you take your hobby online.

Choosing a quality site isn’t as hard as it seems – in most cases going for reputable, high-traffic sites are guaranteed to get the best results regardless of the form of gambling that you’d like to try. For example, poker rooms that receive a lot of traffic offer better cash games and higher tournament prizes. Popular casinos, on the other hand, are able to afford more lucrative welcome bonuses, while popular sportsbooks tend to have better prices, event coverage and, in some cases, reduced juice promotions.

California Online Gambling FAQ

How Do I Get Started?

You don’t have to be present in California in order to create an offshore real money gambling account. All you need to do is prepare all the necessary personal information, visit the site in question, click on the registration button and fill out all the necessary forms. Once your account has been approved by the site’s staff, you should make your first deposit by opening the cashier menu, choosing the welcome bonus that you’d like to use and picking the payment method from a drop-down list.

How Do I Get My Money if I Win?

The money that you transfer to your gambling site remains at your disposal, almost like the cash tied to an e-wallet or an online banking account. If you want to withdraw, open the cashier menu, select the cash out method and wait for the site’s staff to process your request. Most players receive their payouts within two weeks if they decide to go for the standard wire transfer.

What is the minimum age to gamble online in California?

California-friendly sites accept all customers that are at least 18 years old. The gambling age for land-based casinos ranges from 18 to 21, depending on the venue in question.

How do I open an account?

All you need to do is visit the site that you wish to join and fill out a short registration form by providing some basic personal information. You’ll also have to provide the site’s staff with proof of identity if you’d like to play real money games.

Where can I open my account from?

California-facing sites allow their customers to set up their accounts from anywhere in the United States.

From where can I access California online gambling sites?

Most of the California-friendly sites can be accessed from anywhere in the country and, in some cases, even from abroad. Please note that you should be very careful about playing from states that have strict anti-gambling regulations, such as Washington or Utah.

Where can I familiarize myself with the official regulations over gambling in California?

All gambling-related regulations are available in the California Code.

How do I deposit to my online gambling account?

US-facing sites rely on standard credit card payments. We recommend MasterCard and Visa for maximum reliability.

How do I withdraw my winnings?

You’re free to choose between a wire transfer and a check by courier.

Is my money safe?

Yes, your money will be perfectly safe as long as you stick to reputable sites, such as the ones we’ve listed here.

What body regulates gambling in California?

California has four regulatory bodies that oversee gambling within the borders of the state: California Division of Gambling Control, California Gambling Control Commission, California Lottery and California Horse Racing Board.

History of California Casinos

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.

General Rules

– 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