California Gambling Laws: What Gambling is Allowed in CA?
California has many options for those who are interested in legal gambling, although sports gambling is not currently available in the state. While the US Supreme Court lifted restrictions on sports gambling in 2018 and many states followed with legalization, California has not yet followed suit. Still, the state has a long history of card rooms, horse racing, a state lottery, and tribal casinos. Further, there was a push to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November of 2019 to legalize sports betting. In the past few years, California has seen legislation proposing the legalization of online poker. California may be in the opening act of expanding gambling options in the state.
Does California Have State-Regulated Online Gambling?California does not currently have state-regulated online gambling. While there have been attempts to adopt legislation in this area, so far, the state has not enacted laws regarding online gambling.
Legal Progress on Poker Gambling in CaliforniaIn 2008, Assembly Member Levine introduced AB 2026 in the California State Assembly to perform a study on allowing intrastate poker. The study focused on regulatory oversight of online gambling, technology, economic benefits to the state, and the types of games that might be allowed, among other matters. Ultimately, the Assembly failed to pass AB 2026, and the study did not move forward. Another bill was introduced in 2016 to legalize online poker. Assembly Members Gray and Jones-Sawyer introduced AB 2863, the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2016, to allow intrastate poker. Licensed operators would have been required by the Act to deposit $12.5 million into the California general fund while paying 10 percent of their revenues to the state. The Act also included a concession of $57 million to be paid into a fund for the benefit of California horse racing tracks. Unfortunately, the bill never went up for a vote.
Legal Progress on Sports Betting in CaliforniaFollowing emphatic defeats of Prop 26 and Prop 27 in the 2022 election, we’re still years away from legal sports betting in California. Prop 26 would have legalized in-person sports betting at the state’s tribal casinos and four licensed horse racetracks. Prop 27 would have legalized online and mobile sports betting. Now, interest groups will have to regroup ad try to get sports betting measures on the 2024 ballot. If those pass, the earliest California sports betting could launch is 2025.
Are Sweepstakes Casinos Allowed Under California Gambling Law?Sweepstakes are legal under California law, although sweepstakes entities must be careful to meet the legal requirements for this type of contest. If the rules are not followed correctly, the contest could easily be construed as a lottery, which is illegal. The legal elements of a lottery are:
- Giving a prize to a winner.
- The contest is determined by chance.
- A person pays “consideration” to participate in the contest.
How Do Tribal Casinos Work in California?Thanks to a significant 1987 US Supreme Court ruling originating out of California, tribes may now operate tribal casinos on reservation lands throughout the country. The Supreme Court case overruled any restrictions on gaming on Indian reservations. In that case, two tribes (the Cabazon and Morongo Bands) were operating small bingo parlors and card rooms on reservation lands near Palm Springs. The State of California sought to close down the operations, stating they violated state regulations. In its decision, the Supreme Court relied on its prior rulings from the 1830s that Indian tribes are independent political communities, thereby granting the tribes sovereign immunity. The Court held that since California did not prohibit gambling on a criminal basis, the state could not regulate gaming on reservation lands. In response to that ruling, California voters approved Proposition 1A in 2000. Proposition 1A allows the governor to negotiate compacts with tribes on reservations in the state to offer various types of gambling. The State and tribes have since entered into a number of different compacts to permit gaming. As a result, there are now many tribal casinos operating in California. See our Guide to Tribal Casinos in California.
Do Tribes Offer Online Gambling?At this time, tribes in California do not offer online gambling. As noted previously, attempts to legalize online poker have thus far failed.
What Games Can Tribes Offer at Casinos?Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) passed by Congress in 1988, tribal casinos can offer a number of different games defined by various classes. Class I games include games that are for minimal value and traditional forms of Indian gaming. They are only regulated by the tribes. Class II games include bingo, lotto, and poker. In these games, the participants are competing against each other and not against the house. Tribes can offer as many of these games as they want. Class II games are not subject to regulation by the states. The IGRA also allows tribes to offer Class III games. These include all other types of gambling like slot machines, electronic games of chance, and many banked card games like blackjack. To offer these games, the games must be legal under the state laws, and the tribe must negotiate a compact with the state to permit the games. California negotiated some compacts with tribes, but many prominent Las Vegas-style games are missing. The State of California has previously held that craps, roulette, and dice-games based on chance are prohibited under the state constitution and laws. Thus, you will not see these types of games in California casinos. Many tribal casinos have come up with some interesting workarounds to offer substantially similar games.
Are All Casinos in California Tribal Casinos?All legally defined casinos in California are tribal casinos. Some card rooms may contain the word “casino” in their names. Legally, they are not casinos but instead are regulated as California card rooms by state law. Most card rooms and tribal casinos have a minimum age limit of 21. However, there are 14 18+ casinos in California.
How Do Card Clubs Work in California?Card rooms in California allow players to gamble against each other instead of the “house.” At tribal casinos, the dealer working for the casino is also the banker, paying out winners and taking money from losers. This is different from card rooms. At most card rooms, an employee serves as the dealer, and an independent third party is the banker. The card rooms make money by assessing a fee on each hand.
What Games Do Card Clubs Offer?Poker is the main game at California card rooms. Card rooms offer other casino table games like baccarat, pai gow poker, and blackjack, referred to generally as “California” games. These games are not played the same way as they are at casinos. Regulations require that the players take turns as the dealer. If a player does not want to deal, the dealer employee will take up the task. At a casino, an employee would be the dealer all the time.
Who Can Operate a Card Club?A business that wants to operate a card room must obtain a valid state gambling license from the California Bureau of Gaming Control and the California Gambling Control Commission. The Bureau conducts a background investigation to see if the applicant is suitable for a license. The question of suitability is based on multiple factors, including:
- General character.
- Financial and criminal history.