Online Poker California: Can I Play Online Legally?

Another year and still no online poker in California. But there’s progress. For example, there are a few bills and talks to legalize online poker in California. We’ll wait and see what happens this year. The proposed bills have a few key details. For example, it has a license fee of $12.5 million. Secondly, it was a flexible tax rate ranging from 8.847 percent to 15 percent. Additionally, the bill provides up to $60 million a year to the racetracks. In return, they won’t be in the internet poker space. Experts say the California market could grow to $380+ million in annual revenue.

CaliforniaPoker

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California (Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash)

Gambling Laws in California

California is lenient and accepting when it comes to gambling. For example, the state offers six forms of gambling. However, commercial casinos aren’t legal in California.

In their Penal Code, Section 330, California defines gambling as:

“Every person who deals, plays, or carries on, opens, or causes to be opened, or who conducts, either as owner or employee, whether for hire or not, any game of faro, monte, roulette, lansquenet, rouge et noire, rondo, tan, fan-tan, seven-and-a-half, twenty-one, hokey-pokey, or any banking or percentage game played with cards, dice, or any device, for money, checks, credit, or other representative of value, and every person who plays or bets at or against any of those prohibited games, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Overall, California defines its gambling laws rigidly. Albeit, there are some areas with broad interpretation. For more in-depth information on California’s Constitution and anti-gambling laws click here.

Will California Legalize Online Poker?

That’s tough to say, but there are promising signs. For example, there are a few bills in the legislature trying to legalize it. The state legislature shelved the bills, but could act on it next year.

The first two online poker bills came on Feb. 21, 2014. They were similar to previous bills with small revisions. The bills, SB. 1366 an AB. 2291 were shelved in 2014. Subsequently, more bills came down the pipeline. Senatore Isadore Hall and Assemblyman Adam Gra introduced Sb. 278 an AB. 431 in 2015. Neither of those bills bassed and Reggie Jones-Sawyer presented. AB. 2863 in 2016. After that, the bill passed the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee and the Assembly Appropriates Committee. However, the bill was shelved after it didn’t get voted on in the full assembly.

But it makes sense for California to pass regulated internet poker laws. For instance, California has a population of 39.2 million, and could have the largest player pool in the United States. Secondly, this could help lower their significant state debt level of $400 billion. However, a big hurdle in legalizing online poker is opposition from Indian tribes. The state is having a hard time finding a plan that is satisfactory for all parties. California is making some strides in sports betting and any gaming expansion bodes well for online poker.

Where to Play in California

There are plenty of sites available to poker players in California. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite sites for California players taking into consideration things like tournament sizes, player pools, bonuses and banking options. We’ve reviewed every site we recommend extensively and have come to the conclusion that the bottom ones are the absolute best. For more details on why, just click on the site for the full review.

Ignition

$2000 Bonus

Rating: 5/5

Min Deposit $20

2500+ Players

Rating: 5/5

$2000 Bonus - Rating: 5/5
BetOnline

$2000 Bonus

Rating: 4.9/5

Min Deposit $25

1000+ Players

Rating: 4.9/5

$2000 Bonus - Rating: 4.9/5
Bovada.lv

$500 Bonus

Rating: 4.7/5

Min Deposit $20

2500+ Players

Rating: 4.7/5

$500 Bonus - Rating: 4.7/5
Intertops

$1000 Bonus

Rating: 4.6/5

Min Deposit $25

900+ Players

Rating: 4.6/5

$1000 Bonus - Rating: 4.6/5
SportsBetting.ag

$2500 Bonus

Rating: 4.5/5

Min Deposit $20

1000+ Players

Rating: 4.5/5

$2500 Bonus - Rating: 4.5/5
America's Cardroom

$2000 Bonus

Rating: 4.4/5

Min Deposit $25

1500+ Players

Rating: 4.4/5

$2000 Bonus - Rating: 4.4/5
Black Chip Poker

$1000 Bonus

Rating: 4.3/5

Min Deposit $25

1500+ Players

Rating: 4.3/5

$1000 Bonus - Rating: 4.3/5

Where to Play Live

The top poker rooms that we recommend are listed above, however, if a player wanted to play live, California has 70 brick and mortar poker rooms. Some of the most popular include, Commerce Casino, Bicycle Hotel & Casino, and Bay 101 Casino.

Top California Poker Players

Some of the most famous players in the world hail from California. Poker legends Daniel Alaei, Jerry Yang, Johnny Chan, Chris Ferguson, Jamie Gold and Brian Rast all come from The Golden State. There are multiple WSOP Main Event champions and dozens of bracelets among this list of fantastic players. Here are the top 15 ranked by live tournament earnings according to Hendon Mob:

1: Brian Rast – $21,611,886
2: Justin Cuong Van Tran – $13,169,979
3: Jamie Gold – $12,592,641
4: David Rheem – $11,150,569
5: Men Nguyen – $11,068,171
6: David Pham – $10,573,561
7: Rick Salomon – $9,906,283
8: Chris Ferguson – $9,584,545
9: Johnny Chan – $8,743,879
10: Jerry Yang – $8,440,839
11: Barry Greenstein – $8,396,761
12: David Chiu – $8,034,339
13: Nam Thien Le – $7,438,271
14: Daniel Alaei – $7,328,075
15: Benjamin Yu – $7,104,894

Types of Gambling in California

Lottery

The California State Lottery, known as the California Lottery, passed in 1984 with a 58% voter approval. After that, the state sold its first ticked on October 3, 1985. Additionally, 87% of all revenue goes back to the public. In detail, 50%-53% goes towards prizes, 34%-37% to public education, and 13% goes towards administration.

Since its inception, $35 billion has gone towards public education. The lottery generated about $1.3 billion in the 2018-2019 fiscal year:

  • K-12th Grade – 80.3%
  • Community Colleges – 13.6%
  • California State University System – 3.7%
  • University of California  – 2.2%
  • Other Educational Entities – 0.2%

Pari-Mutuel Wagering

Pari-mutuel wagering in California is limited to horse racing. It passed back in 1933 through a constitutional amendment. The California Horse Racing Board was created to regulate this activity. The board includes seven members, appointed by the Governor, that serve four-year terms. Their main responsibilities include:

  • Assure protection of the public.
  • Encourage agriculture and the breeding of horses in this state.
  • Generate public revenues.
  • Provide for maximum expansion of horse racing opportunities in the public interest.
  • Provide uniformity of regulation for each type of horse racing.

Simulcast pari-mutuel wagering is offered at remote locations. For example, bettors can place these bets at websites.

Indian Casino

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the California vs Cabazon Band of Mission Indians case in 1987. Subsequently, Indian tribes were free to build casinos. Today 62 of the 109 California tribes own 68 casinos.

Indian casinos in California generate an estimated $7.5 billion annually and $500 million in tax revenue. The Pechanga Resort and Casino is the largest casino in California. There are over 3,400 slot machines and 188,000 square feet of gaming space in the casino. It cost $262 million to build, opened on June 24, 2002, and employs 4,100 people.

CA State Flag

Racetracks

On June 27, 1933, voters approved Proposition 5. This legalized pari-mutuel wagering on horse races. All other wagers are illegal. Section 19593 of the Business and Professional Code states:

“No method of betting, pool making, or wagering other than by the parimutuel method shall be permitted or used by any person licensed under this chapter to conduct a horse racing meeting.”

Charitable Gaming

Nonprofit organizations must register with the California Bureau of Gambling Control to host a charity event. These organizations are limited to one event per calendar year. Additionally, you have to be 21 or older to participate.

On Jan. 1, 2007 the Business and Professions Code sections 19985-19987, passed in California. This allowed pre-approved nonprofit organizations to hold “charity poker night” fundraisers. Nonprofit organizations and suppliers must submit an annual registration form to the Bureau for approval. The State of California Department of Justice doesn’t approve all games; please see the current game list here.

Real Money Poker Games

Texas Hold’em is, of course, the most popular real money online poker game and can be played everywhere. There are other popular real money poker games that can be played in California including, limit and pot-limit Omaha, Omaha Hi-Lo, Stud and Limit Hold’em.

Online Poker California FAQ

Can I Play Poker on PokerStars in California?

California has tons of poker rooms and is the most populous state in the US, but you still can’t play PokerStars there. PokerStars was kicked out of the US market in 2011 after Black Friday and only recently started coming back. It started in New Jersey and then launched in Pennsylvania in late 2019. It’s coming back on a state-by-state basis and if California legislates online poker, it could grant PokerStars a license.

In the meantime though, there are lots of sites that offer some of the same great games PokerStars did but also accepts players from California and the other 49 states. We’ve reviewed many of these sites in detail and Bovada and Ignition Poker are our top picks. Sites like Black Chip Poker and Americas Cardroom are also top-notch sites.

Can you use Bitcoin to play poker in California?

Definitely. Crypto is big in California and it’s also big in poker. All the sites we recommended above accept Bitcoin as a banking option. We tend to prefer this method too because it’s usually the fastest banking options available to players. Your deposits go in instantly and withdrawals are just minutes away from hitting your account as opposed to days or even weeks with other methods.

Can I play poker on my Mac in California?

This is site-dependent, but every site we’ve reviewed has software for Mac users. On top of that, most of the sites we’ve reviewed offer mobile gaming for both iOS and Android devices. This is essential for us since we play on all sorts of devices and we know our readers do too. One of the best aspects of poker is portability so you can take your game down to the beach in Santa Monica or up in the mountains at Yellowstone.

Are there any free sites to play poker at in California?

Yes! Plenty of sites offer free games with play money. This allows you to play without having to risk any money while you get comfortable with the games and the software. Many sites also offer freeroll tournaments, these are free-to-enter tournaments that offer real cash prize to the top finishers. This means you can start playing for cash without ever having to deposit. You can start your journey to poker riches for a $0 investment.

Are there bonuses for California?

We haven’t seen any bonuses just for California poker players, but we know there are a ton of great poker bonuses out there for players. We’ve covered them extensively on our bonus page, so head on over to see the most up-to-date info on poker bonuses out there.

Specific State-by-State Laws

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