The History, Law and Legal Status of Gambling in California

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Despite being portrayed as a state of carefree living, California has some pretty tight restrictions around gambling and casinos. The sunshine state also has a very long and complicated history with this specific recreational activity, resulting in most residents unsure whether they can participate in it. To help clear some things up, today we’ll be giving our readers a quick lesson in the history, law and current legal status of gambling in California. If this is something that you’re interested in, we hope we can provide you with some helpful guidance.

The History of Gambling Laws in California

For many decades, gambling in California has been a contentious issue. People were both for and against the activity being made legal. This was particularly problematic when it came to Native American gambling. Casinos were being opened exclusively on tribal land in California because of its rich legacy in Native American history. Tribal gambling also boosted the economy, increased tourism, reduced unemployment, and preserved indigenous tribes’ independence. In 2019, it was recorded that 63 casinos were being operated by Native American tribes, generating around $6 billion in revenue every year.

Recognizing that the demand for gambling in California was not going to cease, eventually, a law was passed in 1984, which allowed gambling establishments to be created. Of course, there were very strict restrictions and legislation surrounding these establishments. They include things like Cardrooms, Horse Racing betting, Charitable Organizations (i.e., raffles) and the state lottery. These industries collectively generate billions for the California economy every year. Interestingly, betting on horse races was first legalized in 1933. Six tracks were allowed to be built and people could wager money using off-track establishments.

Regarding online gambling, it took several years for this to be legalized in California. Still, nobody in the state can own or operate an online casino which deals with real money. People can only play by outsourcing to online casinos from other countries or states. These virtual establishments must also be licensed and regulated by the government to ensure safe and responsible gambling. Unfortunately, if anything were to happen to you when using these online casinos, Californian laws would not protect you. In 2012, a proposal was given to the California senate to regulate online poker, but this proposal was unsuccessful. People tried again in 2014 but were met with the same response.

Legal Gambling Activities in California

You’re now probably wondering what specific gambling activities are legal in California. So, let’s have a look and break everything down.

● Card Games

Card games consist of things like poker and blackjack. They are currently legal in California, but only when played in a legalized Cardroom which is regulated by the government. Cardrooms make their income by charging people a fee to play the games, which usually comes in a 5% rake form. 

● Slot Machines

Slot machines are currently illegal in California unless they are antique slot machines that are over 25 years old. Even then, they must never be used when gambling for real money. However, slot machines do appear to be legal when played on tribal land.

● Sports Betting

People can engage in sports betting in California, but you cannot accept bets or start bookmaking. For those who aren’t aware, bookmaking is the act of determining odds, receiving bets and paying off bets when it comes to gambling money on the outcome of sports events. Regarding online sports betting, this activity is completely illegal in California, though some people decide to use offshore websites to do so.

● The Lottery

There are a couple of different lotteries in California, such as the Mega Millions. Rather than using these lotteries for net revenue, however, the state holds these events to generate money which goes towards education. This information is stipulated in the California Government Code.

● Racing Betting

Racing betting consists of wagering an amount of money on the outcome of a dog race, horse race, ectara. The rules surrounding this form of gambling are a little murkier in California. Essentially, racing betting can only legally occur in the state if the betting is pari-mutuel. This means that the bets are pooled together, then taxes and track fees are removed from their overall value. The leftover pool of cash is then divided between the winning players. Unlike other states in the USA, dog racing in California is illegal.

● Bingo Games

Bingo is a popular recreational activity in countries like the United Kingdom, but it’s much different and a point of contention in the United States of America. Though bingo is technically legal in California, it can only be carried out by charitable organizations or tribal casinos. For instance, charities will hold an annual bingo game to provide funding for their causes, but no cash prizes can be rewarded to the winners.

● Social Gambling

Social gambling is completely illegal in California. In fact, anyone caught doing so could be fined up to $1000 and spend six months in jail. Social gambling activities include things like roulette, rouge et noire, fan-tan, and so on. It’s not worth taking a risk with this rule.

● Draw Poker

Strangely, the California state will allow draw poker to occur, as long as the county’s population does not exceed over 4 million residents. The California law states that, otherwise, draw poker constitutes a special problem.

● Online Gambling

As we mentioned before, online gambling is technically illegal in California if the website is being operated from the state. However, you can participate in online gambling by going to offshore websites that are licensed and legal. There have also been no reports of anyone being arrested for using online gambling websites in California.

This is the bulk of the history and law surrounding gambling in California. Ensure you’re well-versed in these rules and regulations to make sure you are playing safely, legally and responsibly.

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