In California, online casinos, online sportsbooks, and online poker gambling are all illegal. However, a few online gaming options are still available for California players including daily fantasy sports (DFS), sweepstakes poker, horse race betting, and occasional lottery promotions.
Beyond that, California gamblers are limited to brick-and-mortar tribal casinos and state-licensed cardrooms. Below is a comprehensive breakdown of what is and isn’t legal in terms of betting in CA:
|Type Of Betting Site||Legal Status In California|
|Online Sports Betting||Illegal (Exception: Daily Fantasy Sports)|
|Traditional Online Poker||Illegal|
|Online Lottery||Illegal (Exception: State-sanctioned Promotions)|
|Online Bingo||Free Play Only|
|Online Horse Racing||Legal|
|Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS)||Legal|
Normally, when people think of online betting, they think of wagering real money for a chance to win real money. Since sweepstake websites do not qualify under this definition, we thought we’d highlight a form of legal real money online gambling that’s more unique to California: horse race betting.
Brick-and-mortar horse racing in California includes four full-time tracks along the coast: Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, and Los Alamitos Race Course. You can place bets on races remotely through these tracks themselves or from legal horse race betting websites.
The most popular legal horse racing sites include TVG, Xpressbet, TwinSpires, and BetAmerica. Each hosts a wide range of events that span the entire globe including races in Australia and Southeast Asia (on top of all the tracks within the United States).
These websites are popular outlets for two simple reasons: traveling to the track isn’t always feasible, and the promotions are worthwhile. The legal horse racing sites available in California offer no deposit bonuses, risk-free betting, and loyalty programs, just like a traditional sportsbook.
The bets you can place at these horse racing sites are the same as if you visited the track itself. That means you can win small amounts on micro-bets as well as enormous payouts on long shot bets like the pick six.
Although California has the largest daily fantasy sports (DFS) market in the country, the state offers only limited online betting options beyond that. Here’s a rundown of each type of online betting and its legal availability for CA residents and visitors:
Currently, online casinos are not legal in California. To play online casino games, California residents will need to travel to a nearby state that has legal online casinos. Although players in CA are still able to access online casino websites and even deposit money, placing a bet from within California state lines is against the law.
It’s unlikely that California will legalize online casinos anytime soon. Because the federal government may not interfere with state laws regarding online casino gambling, it’s up to the State of California to pass legislation, issue licenses, and regulate operators. Recent news coverage has not identified any online casino legislation in the works.
Unfortunately, online sportsbooks are another betting option not yet available to those located in California. Land-based sportsbooks (aside from race tracks) are not available either.
In order to place sports bets, California residents must travel to states where sports betting is legal (like Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania). Fortunately, many people in California are an easy drive from Nevada, where they can place both sports bets online and retail locations.
Currently, online poker is not legal in California. However, poker fans can somewhat relax because legislation is at least moving forward in this area.
In November 2020, a bill to legalize online poker made its way into the state legislature, but deliberations were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Discussions are likely to commence after the crisis has been dealt with.
For the time being, poker players in California are limited to poker tables at retail casinos. But that’s okay, because Southern California is considered to be the brick-and-mortar poker capital of the world. It’s one of the few places in the country that has allowed poker since the 1930s.
That’s on top of this being one of the richest regions, inviting both international, national, and local high-rollers to some of the most sought-after seats in world poker. No wonder so many Hollywood celebrities double as professional poker players, including Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, and Jennifer Tilly.
The online lottery is not available in California. Lottery players in California can check online to see whether their ticket won by downloading the app and scanning the ticket’s barcode. However, neither purchase nor play options are generally available on the app.
There are infrequent exceptions to this rule. In 2019, California launched a “second chance” promotion for scratch-off tickets. After purchasing a ticket, players could login to the California Lottery app and try their luck at another chance to win. Two people won over a million dollars, so keep your eye out for the next time they roll out a similar promotion.
But, that said, you can’t login to the California Lottery app and buy tickets online. You have to go to a local retailer (the nearest of which is probably around the corner from your home).
On a side-note, California residents should make absolute certain to avoid offshore lottery websites (of which there are many). Imagine if you got lucky and won a million dollars. What’s to stop that site from keeping the money? They have possession of the ticket, and you have zero recourse because the website is unlicensed.
Plenty of Bingo parlors exist across the state of California. Some even have payouts in the thousands of dollars, but most offer physical prizes.
Real money online Bingo, on the other hand, is not legal in California. Instead, legal Bingo sites are limited to sweepstakes, which will further explain in later sections of this page
Thankfully, a simple Google search will identify all the legal Bingo events going on in your area. Chances are there’s one coming up soon nearby.
The only traditional online betting option that’s legal in California is horse racing. You can bet on local, national, and international tracks, from races in San Diego to locations on the other side of the world.
However, many betting websites that take horse racing bets from folks in CA are illegal and unlicensed, so it’s important for you to do your due diligence before depositing.
It also might be worthwhile to note that horse racing could be nearing its finish line as a practice in California. The activist outcry against what many dub animal cruelty, particularly in a famously progressive state, could make horse racing illegal before the state legalizes online sportsbooks and casinos.
Still, even if horse racing goes the way of greyhound racing and gets outlawed in CA, betting on it online will almost certainly remain legal.
Daily fantasy sports (DFS) are legal in most states because their operators have convinced legislators that DFS is skill-based rather than luck-based. As such, participation in DFS is not considered gambling. So, while online casinos, online sportsbooks, and poker sites are illegal in almost all US states, DFS is only unavailable in the following states:
In every other state as well as Washington, DC, you can legally play DFS with popular apps like DraftKings and FanDuel.
If you’re wondering how sports betting isn’t skill-based but DFS is, that’s a hotly debated topic for another time. Similarly, if you’re wondering how DFS is more skill-based than poker, no one has a good answer for you. It’s a total mystery.
Sweepstakes betting sites can legally offer online casino games, Bingo, digital scratch-offs, sportsbooks and even poker. However, you can’t directly win cash through sweepstakes games.
By winning at games, players earn points that can be traded in for prizes (including cash). Many sites offer introductory promotions such as coins for free play. But ongoing opportunities require playing the different games.
To call sweepstakes betting sites a form of gambling is a massive stretch. Still, you can win cash prizes by playing blackjack, slots, roulette and so on. So, while it’s not gambling, it has the feel of an online casino.
Interestingly, gambling is one of the few bipartisan issues in the United States. Republican, Democrat, and Independent politicians can be for or against legalization, political party notwithstanding. This is important to mention because online gambling legislation is a political issue, and California is a historically left-leaning state.
The Federal Wire Act of 1961 put federal restrictions on all forms of online gambling for decades. In September 2011, the Obama administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) declared that the law only applies to sports betting. Several years later in 2018, the Trump administration’s DOJ retracted that opinion and declared that the law applies to all forms of online betting.
The question then fell into the lap of the Fifth Court of Appeals, which ruled that the law only applies to sports betting. Most recently, Trump’s DOJ filed its intent to appeal. If you’re confused, welcome to the club.
Ever since US states began legalizing online casinos and online sportsbooks, California has been slow to the punch. This isn’t due to a lack of demand. Rather, it’s due to a lack of political will. Passing new legislation requires cutting through a mountain of red tape, and the recent push toward legalized online poker in 2020 was stymied by the coronavirus pandemic.
Basically, the history of California’s online gambling is yet to be written. Online poker seems to be the most likely legalization in the near future. The growing demand for legal online sportsbooks will also likely reach a fever pitch across the US, and this won’t exclude California.
The most liberal aspect of legal gambling in California compared to other states is the cardroom. Cardrooms are retail locations that allow poker, blackjack, pai gow, and baccarat but do not permit slots or table games.
Cardrooms also serve food, drinks, and host events, which gives them the feel of a casino. However, if you like the digital games or roulette, you’ll have to travel one state over to Nevada. Furthermore, since 1995, no new cardrooms can open up. So, what currently stands is all the state is going to get. That means if one goes out of business, a new one can’t pop up.
Another option is to travel to Native American reservation casinos. In California alone, there are 63 different tribal casinos that span the state.
You can also purchase tickets to play the California State Lottery at a wide range of retail locations. Tickets are available for purchase and cash-in only within the state borders. However, you can also play Mega Millions and PowerBall, which are both multi-state competitions open to 45 states.
|Are retail casinos legal in California?||Cardrooms only|
|How many tribal casinos are in California?||65|
|How many horse tracks are in California?||Four|
|Can you play the lottery in California?||Yes|
|What is the legal gambling age in California?||18-years-old|
|Who regulates California gambling?||California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC)|
Within the California state lines, there are two different types of casinos: tribal casinos and cardrooms. Currently, you can bet at 65 full-sized tribal casinos and 89 state-licensed cardrooms. These establishments vary in size dramatically, especially when you compare small cardrooms to enormous casino resorts.
Unlike cardrooms, tribal casinos host every type of casino game, including slots, video poker, roulette and craps. That’s on top of the blackjack and poker that are offered at cardrooms.
California’s casino industry has skyrocketed in growth since the ratification of the Tribal-State Gaming Compacts in 1999. Since then, dozens of casinos have opened across the state on reservation land.
Because no new cardrooms can open as of 1995, the only way a new casino can open is if it’s tribal-run or the state passes new legislation. That means, for now, the California casino industry has, by all indications, plateaued.
Right now, 61 Native American tribes own the 64 casinos located within California state lines. The names of the casinos normally are not related to the name of the tribe.
As for the cardrooms, the ownership is even more varied, but they’re often named after the location. For example, Commerce Casino is located in Commerce, CA, while the Napa Valley Casino is located in Napa.
“Winning the lottery” isn’t as unlikely as the term often connotates. Of course, winning huge jackpots hold incredibly small odds, and most people who play Powerball or Mega Millions every week for their whole lives never come close to winning the jackpot. But playing the lotto in California is a much different experience.
There are two drawings per day (every day). You can select three numbers or let the computer do it for you. One number can win you over $50, while the three numbers in order can pay out a few hundred dollars or more.
The same as Daily 3 except with four numbers. The prizes are also larger due to the increased difficulty of correctly guessing four in a row.
This virtual horse racing game allows bettors to guess which “horse” (number) will come in first, second, and third. The results come in twice per day.
The same as Daily 3 and 4, except that the drawing is once per day, and the minimum win for the top prize is $65,000.
The California-only version of the MegaMillions. The drawing occurs twice per week, and the minimum top prize is $7 million.
In California, lottery retailers host screens with a Keno game called Hot Spot that allows you to bet every four minutes from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day. Payouts are determined by both the price of the ticket and the amount of correctly guessed numbers.
According to California Gambling Law, a non-profit can use casino games to raise money in what is commonly known as a “casino night.”
However, 90 percent of gross revenue has to go to a registered charity, individual cash prizes cannot exceed $500, and total prizes can’t exceed $5,000.
You also can’t host any aspect of it online.
Yes. However, raffles are held to similar laws as charity casino nights in that 90 percent of revenue must go toward charity. However, the Bureau of Gambling Control also allows and regulates 50/50 raffles at sporting events.
Online raffles are not legal in most cases. Even charitable online raffles are illegal if any form of marketing for the raffle is done online. You can legally advertise an in-person raffle, as well as list all the details of the raffle, such as prizes, rules, and even entry forms, which need to be printed out and completed manually.
Yes. Office pools are legal in California so long as:
So, if you and your friends want to hold a pool for events like March Madness or do a Super Bowl board, there’s nothing stopping you if you operate within those rules.
No. Not unless you’re betting on horse racing or participating in a state-stationed lottery promotion. Otherwise, you’re gambling at an illegal betting site.
While it’s not illegal to gamble at an offshore casino, you won’t have any recourse if you’re ripped off. Many Californians still choose to bet at unlicensed sites and receive their winnings without issue. But is it safe? Strictly speaking, it is not.
In order to ensure the user base is in compliance with local regulations, online sportsbooks and casinos require members to let them know their location. Others will use geolocation software. Otherwise, there’s no way of knowing whether the person is inside the state – or even within the country.
Allowing bets from people located outside of the state of licensing is illegal. Even those who legally reside in states where online casinos or sportsbooks are legal cannot bet if they’re outside of state lines.
Yes. The second you cross the border into Nevada, you can play at any of their licensed betting websites. Many who live close to the border can feasibly drive over state lines, place their sports bets, drive home, then drive back into the state to collect their winnings.
Yes. State residency does not matter. All that matters is that you’re located within the state lines. That means you don’t even need to be a United States citizen to legally bet at licensed online casinos.
Yes. California’s standard income tax applies to any gambling winnings. The only exception is the CA Lottery, wherein the 24 percent tax (or 30 percent for non-US citizens or legal residents) is automatically withheld if the winnings exceed $600.
So, if you’re a US citizen and win $1,000 on the CA Lottery, you’d receive $760, and you would not have to pay any additional taxes.
If your net winnings for the year exceed $5,000, then they are subject to a flat tax rate of 25 percent.
It’s important to note that “net winnings” means your winnings subtracted by your losses. If you won $10,000 but lost $5,001, you would not have to pay federal taxes for gambling.
Tribal casinos in California are virtually the same as the casinos you’d find in Reno or Vegas. The biggest difference is the number of options. If you’re in a more rural part of California, you may be a long drive from the closest tribal casino. If you’re on the Vegas Strip, you’re a stone’s throw away from dozens of casinos.