Contrary to popular belief, on a federal level, there are no laws that prohibit you from participating in legally licensed online gaming websites. In fact, the United States Department of Justice has previously stated that each individual state possesses the authority to determine their own legislation as it pertains to both land and online gambling.
There are two important pieces of legislation that have dictated the federal government’s stance on online gaming, and how online casinos operate and circumnavigate certain gray areas.
The first relates to sports betting. The Federal Wire Act of 1961 bans wire communications to be used to place a bet on a sporting event or contest. Up until now, the federal government was including bets on “games of chance” such as online casino games and poker under this law. The Department of Justice released their formal opinion stating that the law only applies to wire communications pertaining to a “sporting event or contest”, thus not including online casino games or poker in their publicly released opinion.
The second relates to how online casinos process transactions. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 made it illegal for banks to process transactions associated with online gaming. This does not pertain to any transaction made by players, such as deposits, but it merely prohibits banks and payment services from processing withdrawals and deposits from online gaming sites. You’ll see several online casinos operating today, but many are based offshore so that are not subject to this law.
To date, only Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have officially legalized and determined a system to regulate online gambling. One important factor requires that you reside in one of these states to be able to participate in their state regulated online casinos and poker rooms.
Many states are aiming to follow the precedent set by Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey, including California. California is the largest state with a population of over 39 million, and is a very important market for gambling operators.
There are no written laws in the state of California that forbid or officially regulate online gambling. You will not be prosecuted for any crimes, so long as you meet the age requirement, which is 21 years of age.
For years now the state has struggled to pass official legislation to regulate web-based gaming. Many of the state’s legislators are in favor of regulation, but continue to struggle to find common ground. In 2013, the state introduced California Senate Bill 51. It aims to authorize intrastate online gaming, including internet poker, through licensed websites.
The Authorization and Regulation of Internet Poker and Consumer Protection Act of 2013 has also been introduced to state legislators. It essentially mandates players to be 21 years of age to play online poker, and provides financial safeguards for online players.
Years later, Assemblyman Adam Gray introduced bill AB 2863 that passed through the Assembly Appropriation Committee. The bill’s aim to legalize and regulate online poker in the state. There have been several points of contention that have come up as many feel the fines in place are too small and should be increased. However, the bill did receive the approval from the Poker Players Alliance.
The Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2013 would legally permit gaming operators of California reservation casinos and commercial card rooms to offer online poker to state residents and visitors physically present in California during their poker session. The bill was approved by eight California Indian tribes, and would require the state to opt out of any future legislation pertaining to online gambling passed by the federal government.
As previously indicated, there are still no fully enacted laws establishing official regulations of online gaming and poker, but you can see that the topic is one that has caused much debate for years. Many gaming operators and players are closely monitoring the aforementioned bills and future proposals to see what the outcome will be for the state and how it will impact the state’s gaming industry.
Sports betting is viewed differently by the federal government and currently it is illegal in the state of California. In fact, only Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon are exempt from federal laws related to online sports betting. Many California players flock to sportsbooks on sites such as Bovada, BetOnline, Sportsbetting.ag, and BookMaker.eu as these sites operate offshore.
For a full reference of online casinos that accept U.S. players, you can visit our online casinos page.
There are three major groups voicing their concerns and interests with respect to regulation with online gambling and poker: Native Americans, card rooms, and racetracks.
Historically, gambling has provided viable employment and valuable revenue for Native American tribes that operate casinos. For years Native Americans have argued that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) exempts tribes from obeying the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIEGA) as they are operating as sovereign tribes.
In 2014, a federal judge shut down the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel’s (a California tribe) online bingo and poker site stating that the UIGEA superseded the IGRA, and deemed online gaming casinos illegal in California. Thus, further complicating the current state of online gaming in California, and contributing to the many gray areas and flaws in the current system.
Commercial card rooms are allowed in California, as long as they comply with the state’s regulations and laws and obtain a valid state gambling license. All controlled games such as pai-gow and poker, and jackpots, bonuses, tournaments must be approved by the Bureau of of Gambling Control. They also must comply with any local ordinances. One key difference between card rooms and Vegas-style casinos is, California card rooms charge players a fee to play and card rooms earn revenue from those fees.
Card rooms not only have to adhere to specific guidelines for their land-based gambling operations, they are competing to maintain a stake in the future regulation of web-based gambling to put themselves in position to benefit from any future laws and not lose any stake in the gaming industry to competitors such as Native American tribes.
Many of the state’s racetracks are also attempting to claim a stake in online regulation, particularly online poker, as they recognize the importance of the online market. At least one piece of legislation to date has demanded the inclusion of the state’s racetracks. If the state passes any law that does not allow racetracks to operate online gaming and poker, they would like to be compensated as a result of not being included.
Play money online casinos are casinos that offer slot machine games, table games and poker games utilizing “play money chips. Sometimes sites ask that you purchase additional play money chips to access certain games or to unlock particular aspects of an individual game. Play money sites offer a free-play experience for those looking to practice or enjoy the thrill of gaming without the risk of real money. There are no cash-outs available for wins.
There are a handful of California casinos that offer play money gaming on their websites.
Harrah’s Resort Southern California: Harrah’s has a physical location in Valley Center, CA, and also offers play money gaming on their website. Part of Caesars Entertainment, Harrah’s website allows players to earn credits by playing poker, slots, and bingo.
Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego: The Hollywood Casino in San Diego offers players online slots, free, with play money on their website. You can choose from classic reel slots and newer online slots, and you can move up various levels depending on the amount of credits you earn to unlock different games.
San Manuel Casino: The San Manuel Casino is owned and operated by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a Californian Native American tribe in San Bernardino County. Their website offers play money gaming for slots, table games, poker, and bingo. They host various tournaments and have a play money loyalty program where you can gain access to exclusive games and new releases.
As each election year passes, California continues to be at a standstill in terms of approving legislation and acquiring the necessary amount of votes to enact online gambling regulation. There are several companies and tribes with invested interest such as Commerce, The Bicycle, Hawaiian Gardens Casino, The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and The Morongo Band of Mission Indians.
The tribal casinos possess tremendous leverage and influence and mostly oppose a state regulated system for online gaming. Card rooms are working towards representing their interests in future legislation, while racetracks seek inclusion or compensation for exclusion. Until an agreement is met, California residents do have several options for live play and are encouraged to look for online casinos accepting U.S players. For a list of live play casinos in California, visit our casino guide here.