California's Online Gambling Laws 2023
California's position has historically been favorable towards gambling. After all, they invented the slot machine, and they're the home to the legal challenge that led to the establishment of tribal casinos nationwide.
In CA, gambling was virtually unregulated up until 1984 when the Gaming Registration Act surfaced, followed later in 1997 by the Gambling Control Act, which was established to implement statewide legal gambling regulation.
Then in the fall of 2003, Proposition 1A was passed by California voters to allow tribal gaming compacts to host proper Class III casino games. Each participating tribe in the state-tribal compacts are allowed to run two land-based casinos.
That said, there has been no movement to craft California online gambling laws and regulate the activity in a domestic capacity. Instead, the state has been content to allow gambling only on an in-person basis. However, because offshore casinos, sportsbooks, and poker rooms are not addressed by CA laws, these remain freely available to residents as the only legal ways to bet online in the Golden State.
What Is The State's Position On California Online Poker?
While CA has countless card rooms where poker can be played, the state has has made several attempts to regulate online poker.
In February 2013, State Senator Lou Correa proposed a bill to regulate online CA poker. SB 678 – the "Authorization and Regulation of Internet Poker and Consumer Protection Act" – did not make its way through the committee. Various other bills also came and went over the years since, all with the same result. The last attempt was in 2017 (AB 1677).
Supporters of Internet-based poker in CA have been faced with resistance from tribal casino owners, slowing down the progress of any legislation seeking to allow domestic online poker.
Though California has yet to legalize domestic online poker gambling, legally licensed and regulated online poker rooms based outside of the United States are still legal options for CA poker players, and each site recommended here has all the classic poker game variants you expect (Texas Hold 'Em, Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo, etc.).
General Online Gambling Laws In California
Online wagers on horse racing are permitted as California online gambling under California law. The state also accepts horse bets from residents of other states that do not prohibit such activities, as per the IHRA (Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978). Currently, 41 states have interstate online OTBs (off-track betting venues) for regulated US horse racing.
That said, there are currently CA state laws specifically prohibiting California players from participating in online gambling at legally licensed and regulated offshore gambling sites. There are also no federal laws prohibiting or criminalizing licensed offshore online gambling for USA players or players from California.
This leaves the door open for players to participate in online gambling and sports betting at a number of sites legally based and regulated outside of the United States.
California Gambling Laws For Charitable and Social Gambling
California law does permit charitable gambling. Charitable gambling, however, is limited to bingo, poker, and raffles. Charitable gambling under California law does not cover or allow for domestic online gambling of any kind.
In addition to the 69 tribal casinos in California, there are over 100 licensed card rooms across the state. It is legal to play real-money poker in these card rooms, but no California card room may offer online poker.
Social gambling including home poker games is legal as long as such events do not break California gambling laws. Social gambling must meet the following criteria to be legal in CA:
- The homeowner or the host does not receive any monetary gain for hosting the game (i.e. "rake"). Personal winnings do not count.
- The games offer a level playing field to all players. Every player must have an equal opportunity to win.
- The games must be conducted in a private setting such as a home or a private social club and cannot be "house banked."
Under California law, illegal gambling is a misdemeanor offense. Fines can range between $100 and $1000. Of course, again, gambling online with an offshore casino or betting site does not constitute illegal gambling in CA.
The Impact of Federal Gambling Laws On California Players
Of the two remaining federal gambling laws that govern various forms of betting entertainment throughout the US, neither criminalizes the individual for betting online.
The Federal Wire Act prevents regulated sportsbooks in any state from accepting wagers or transmitting sports betting information across state lines.
The UIGEA is not directed at US gamblers, but instead prevents US-based financial institutions (like banks, credit unions, and P2P instant-pay services) from knowingly processing gambling-related payment transfers to or from non-US-regulated sportsbooks, casinos, and poker rooms.
Until 2018, there was a third major federal gambling law: PASPA. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (1992) is no longer enforced, as it was overturned by the Supreme Court in May 2018. Thus, each state – including California – can now legally regulate sports betting entertainment both online and offline.
California Online Gambling Laws
While California has not specifically legalized state-regulated online gambling yet, their dire financial situation makes it likely they will move in this direction sooner rather than later, particularly when it comes to domestic sports betting.
Currently, there are no state laws prohibiting or criminalizing the act of placing bets online through licensed and regulated offshore gambling sites. This means CA dollars are leaving the state, and a cash desperate state may regulate online gambling just to recapture those dollars.
To review the California state laws and statutes concerning gambling, you may want to visit the State of California DOJ to find the details and content of the any such legislation.
Disclaimer: For professional interpretations or legal advice, we recommend that you contact a lawyer. We are not lawyers, do not hold any law degrees or legal certifications, and are not here to provide professional legal services. We are consultants who seek to inform the betting community about relevant online gambling related topics.
California Gambling Law FAQs
What Forms Of Gambling Are Legal In California?
California is one of the few states to have several forms of legal gambling available to its residents. Player banked card rooms are widespread throughout the state. In these cards rooms, the house only takes a small fee per hand, and instead of playing against the house, players play against other players.
This makes it legal under California law because the house does not take a percentage rake. There are also 69 Native American casinos in the state, over 21,000 lottery ticket sales locations, and various horse tracks that allow local and interstate pari-mutuel horse racing betting.
What Is Charitable Gambling?
Limited to bingo, raffles, pull tabs, and scratchers, charitable gambling allows charity groups (rather than casinos) to provide these specific gambling activities. With charitable gaming, the house takes may only go towards established charitable causes.
What Is Social Gambling?
Social gambling is a legal form of CA betting that allows private citizens to wager among a group of friends or acquaintances in private settings as long as no entity operates as the "house" or takes a cut of the action.
Social gambling games must offer a level playing field for all players involved, must be conducted in a private setting, and the host cannot stand to gain any profit off the event in any way.
What Are The Consequences For Illegal Gambling In California?
You can be charged with illegal gambling, a misdemeanor offense is the state of California, for merely showing someone where to play illegal card games. You can be fined anywhere between $100 and $1000 based on the severity of your offense.
However, with so many legal retail options between the tribal casinos, cardrooms, and legitimate online CA gambling sites, there is no reason to ever risk participating in illegal gambling in California.
Why Does The Online Gambling Website Have To Be Located Outside Of The US To Be Legal For CA Residents?
CA-based online gambling websites cannot acquire the appropriate regulation to operate without legislative authorization. However, online gambling sites licensed and located outside of CA and US jurisdiction are considered legal, as there are no laws that criminalize any Golden State or US resident for using them.