California Casinos, Gambling, and Law Regulations: An Overview

The history of gambling in California is extensive and complex, tracing its roots back to the Gold Rush era of the 1840s. Presently, numerous gambling options such as card clubs, Indian casinos, and lottery games are flourishing throughout the state. The California legislature is now in discussions about broadening the scope of legal gambling within the state. Online gambling in CA is somewhat of a legal ambiguity, however, the state has not yet taken any action against individuals engaging in real money gambling at licensed offshore websites.

This article discusses CA gambling laws and their impact on the state gambling industry. We provide a timeline of California gambling history, along with a CA gambling FAQ for readers who may have questions on this matter. We’ll also talk about the best places to gamble for Golden State residents.

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History of the Gambling Laws in California

Unlike other States, gambling has been an integral part of the CA landscape from the beginning. Card-rooms, also known as “Californian Casinos”, have been around since the Gold Rush days. These venus hosted numerous player vs player games such as poker and pai gow in which players take turns to be “the banker.”

Many card rooms were closed over the years; however, there are still around 40 of them throughout the state. The biggest is the Commerce Casino — the largest cardroom in the world.

It took a while for other forms of gambling to catch up. Let’s take a short trip down history lane and see how it all went down.

1933: The constitutional amendment was passed, and horse betting became legal at six tracks and numerous off-track betting establishments. Recently, horse racing became legal over the web, too.

1984: California Proposition 37, also known as The California State Lottery Act was passed, creating the State lottery. This went on to become a hugely successful industry, earning billions of dollars.

1988: The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was enacted by Congress, establishing a jurisdictional framework that governs Indian gaming. This was the time when the casino gambling business in the State started growing. The State of CA formed compacts with over 50 tribes who started opening their casinos on their territories, offering bingo-style games.

2000: Proposition 1A was approved, and Indian tribes were given permission to open casino properties. The state formed individual compacts with each tribe. The state also provided financial settlements for Indian tribes, including tax and payments to other tribes who don’t own casinos on their land.

2010: Horse racing was officially legalized for California residents. While this represents only a small part of the overall gambling market, it paved a path for other forms of gambling to follow.

2012: Various attempts (bills) to regulate online poker were put before the California Senate, including SB40, SB45, and SC1473. The key point of these bills was to decide whether or not the tribes will have a role in licensing and regulating the online poker operators. They failed.

2014: Another attempt to legalize online poker was put before the CA Senate, but it failed again.

Land-based establishments are pushing heavily for state-regulated online gambling. The large percentage of the Californian population would allow huge online tournaments and promotions at CA gambling sites.

One major obstacle that the State will have to overcome to achieve this goal is the involvement of the tribes. These groups have been the focal point of the casino gambling in CA for years, and they feel that they should be a part of the newly-founded iGaming industry in the State. The fight to take a fair share of the pie could delay the passage of any legislation.

Californian voters must approve all forms of the state’s gambling laws through a constitutional amendment. Every type of gambling in the State was legalized through the process that includes a statewide referendum. Most forms of illegal gambling are guilty of a misdemeanor.

California law generally recognizes the following forms of gaming:

Casino games: California only permits tribal casinos. These establishments usually offer bingo, poker, slot machines, blackjack, keno, and video poker.

Sports Betting: Sports betting is legal, but only on Horse races, and this is called Parimutuel betting or “mutual betting”. Parimutuel betting is a betting system in which all bets of a particular type are pooled so that they are playing against one another instead of betting against the house. When management fees and taxes are deducted, the pool is divided among winners. The only legal form of parimutuel betting in California is horse racing.

Card clubs: Card rooms are allowed in California. These establishments differ from traditional casinos because players don’t bet against the house. Card room owners make money by charging players a fee for hosting the games. This often takes the form of a 5% contribution from each pot, which is called the rake.

Charitable Gambling: In CA, legal charitable gambling refers to games of bingo in which the proceeds go to charity. Oftentimes, the games are hosted by the charities themselves. Keep in mind that bingo is the only game permitted.

State lottery: The state of California manages the California lottery and provides various games including SuperLotto Plus and Mega Millions.

Where to Gamble in California?

There are currently 109 federally recognized Indian tribes in CA, and 62 of them own casino properties. In total, the Golden State has 69 tribal casinos — three mini-casinos, 16 Indian casino resorts, and 50 Indian casinos. These casinos host 70,000+ slot machines and over 2,000 table games. These numbers are higher than in any other state. Large casinos in Southern California include Pechanga, Morongo, and Harrah’s Rincon.

The majority of residents live at no more than a half-hour drive from a card club or a tribal California casino. All major cities have somewhere to play poker. These casinos offer players the same services and games that you may find in Atlantic City or Las Vegas.

Let’s take a look at some of the popular choices for casino aficionados.

Barona Resort & Casino

Barona Resort and Casino is an Indian Casino located in Lakeside, San Diego. The spacious casino floor boasts over 2,000 slot machines and 80 table games, all set in a 300,000 square foot venue. Their slot machines have been rated San Diego’s loosest slots for five years in a row. When it comes to slots, Barona casino offers a plethora of gaming choices, ranging from classic reels slots and latest video slots to lots of video poker, and plenty of jackpot machines.

Club Barona members are rewarded for all their play here, and there are four different levels of membership, each offering its own set of perks. Their table game collection is also impressive, and there are 80 gaming tables at hand. Casino Player Magazine gave them the award for the best blackjack in the country, and with so many casinos in the US, that’s quite an accomplishment. This is a fantastic resort casino indeed, and one of the finest in the area at the very least.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino

Located on 84-245 Indio Springs Dr, Indio, Fantasy Springs Resort is indeed a sight to behold. As soon as you set your foot into the luxurious casino floor, you’ll be walking into a world of elegance and unparalleled excitement. Decorated with over 30 awards from Casino Player Magazine, Fantasy Springs features over 2,000 latest slots offerings, top-notch table games, professional hosts and dealers, and the potentially lucrative Fantasy Rewards Club offering the most loyal players exquisite rewards and perks.

The casino also has a first-class bingo hall, featuring both smoking and non-smoking areas and a wide variety of games. If you’re a fan of off-track betting, we recommend that you pay a visit to the Casino’s Triple Crown Room — a modern betting venue offering trackside seating at the country’s premier courses along with private television for their high roller guests. These are just a few things that make Fantasy Springs Resort Casino a top gaming destination in Southern California.

Graton Resort and Casino

Situated on 288 Golf Course Dr W, Rohnert Park, Graton Resort & Casino is the perfect getaway to the rolling hills of Northern California’s wine country. This state-of-the-art, full-amenity gaming resort boasts a high-energy casino floor with an endless variety of slots and video poker, along with an abundant array of table games. These include over 100 table games, among which you can find various variants of Baccarat, Blackjack, Pai Gow Poker, and a dedicated poker room. On top of that, the casino frequently runs time-limited promotions and other benefits for all guests. All in all, when it comes to casino entertainment, it doesn’t get much better than Graton Resort and Casino.


Is gambling legal in California?

Most forms of gambling are legal in California, including casino gaming (on tribal land), sports betting (on horse races), bingo, lottery, and gambling in legitimate cardrooms.

Can I play roulette in California?

You can, but only electronic versions of the game, and only the ones that are offered at tribal casinos.

Is online gambling legal in California?

The only form of online gambling explicitly legal in CA is off-track betting on horse racing.

What is the difference between card clubs and Indian casinos?

Card clubs are allowed to offer poker and card games that are not house banked. Tribal casinos may spread these games, and also offer slots and video poker.

What is the minimum gambling age in California?

The minimum gambling age for lottery sales and charity gambling is 18, and 21 for casinos and horse racing.