Bingo is big in California. You can play live in bingo halls all around the state as well as in many California tribal casinos. Some of these venues are quite large, seating hundreds of players all vying to complete their bingo cards first.
Online gambling is not legal in California, but people in the state still have choices when it comes to bingo games online. Those options include social and sweepstakes sites that enable players to use virtual currencies to play bingo with the chance to win real money.
Here is an overview of bingo in California, including information about California bingo laws, more about online bingo options in the state, discussion of popular types of bingo games, and more.
How to play online bingo in California
You cannot legally play bingo online for real money in California. Remote caller bingo sites will transmit the game to affiliated venues in the state, but you still have to visit one of those physical sites where the games are being broadcast in order to play them.
Otherwise, California prohibits playing online bingo for money. One California tribe, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel Tribe, briefly tried to launch its own online bingo site in 2014. Called Desert Rose Bingo, the site offered real money bingo games. However, the site soon shut down, and several years later the tribe lost a court case that clarified that tribes could not offer online gambling accessible beyond their lands.
Even so, there are legal online sites that enable Californians to play bingo. Several tribal casinos have free-to-play online casinos that offer versions of the same games available in their retail locations. These sites usually feature slots and table games, but they are worth checking out as well for bingo, keno, and other options.
But that’s not the only online bingo option for Californians.
Social and sweepstakes online bingo sites
You can also play online bingo at social and sweepstakes sites. These sites use virtual currencies but in some cases also offer the chance to claim real money prizes. Like other sweepstakes contests, these sites require no purchase to play games, thereby making them legal for Californians.
The most popular online social casino that employs the sweepstakes format is Chumba Casino. The site features a variety of slots, table games, and other casino-style options. There are also ways to redeem cash prizes while playing the games with Chumba Casino’s virtual currencies.
Among the options at Chumba Casino is a bingo game called Flambingo. The game plays much like regular bingo, with players receiving virtual cards with numbered spaces and matching those numbers as they are called.
Popular online bingo games
Chumba Casino’s bingo game is standard 75-Ball Bingo found in most live venues in California. As in the bingo halls’ games, players receive five-by-five square cards with the letters B-I-N-G-O across the top. Numbers appear in the columns below according to the following ranges:
- B — 1 to 15
- I — 16 to 30
- N — 31 to 45
- G — 46 to 60
- O — 61 to 75
The center square is typically a free space filled from the start of the game. Numbers are then called, and each time one matches a number on a player’s card, that number receives a mark. For online games, the site will mark matches automatically. When playing bingo live, players have to mark their cards themselves.
A player wins by matching five numbers in a horizontal line, in a vertical line, or along one of the diagonal lines.
Other winning combinations are sometimes available, as well. In Chumba Casino’s game Flambingo, for instance, players can also win by matching all four corners. That game also incorporates a second way to win, called coverall or blackout bingo. Also known as full house, coverall is a variation often available online that involves matching all 24 numbers plus the free space.
Other bingo games that you might find online and elsewhere include the following:
- 90-Ball Bingo — Players receive a three-by-nine card (27 squares) with 90 balls/numbers in play; the cards include 12 blank spaces, meaning there are only 15 numbers to try to hit.
- 80-Ball Bingo — Players receive a four-by-four card (16 squares) with 80 balls/numbers in play
- 30-Ball Bingo — A turbo-paced version of bingo using a three-by-three card (nine squares) and 30 balls/numbers
There are many other online bingo variants, like Picture Bingo, Session Bingo, and Speed Bingo. There are also “bingo slots” games that combine slots and bingo, among them the popular Slingo games.
Current bingo laws in California
In California, bingo primarily exists as the most popular form of charitable gaming legal in the state.
Charitable bingo games in California
California Penal Code 326.5 excludes bingo from the general statewide prohibition on gambling as long as the games raise funds for charity.
The law does not prohibit bingo if it “is conducted in a city, county, or city and county pursuant to an ordinance enacted under Section 19 of Article IV of the State Constitution.” That section permits the state’s lawmakers to “authorize cities and counties to provide for bingo games, but only for charitable purposes.”
In other words, the state doesn’t license or regulate these traditional bingo games, but rather leaves it up to each local jurisdiction to oversee them. However, the state’s bingo law does specifically limit the top prize for all charitable bingo games to a $500 maximum.
The California Gambling Control Commission does oversee one form of legal bingo in the state, remote caller bingo games. These bingo games are like traditional bingo, but they use audio and video technology to transmit the remote calling of the game to affiliated in-state facilities. Those other facilities must be owned, leased, or rented by the same organization that calls the games, or the use of those sites donated to those organizations.
The CGCC issues remote caller bingo licenses to nonprofit organizations that have been in existence for at least three years and that satisfy the requirements that qualify them to offer charitable bingo games. The CGCC’s list of potential nonprofit organizations that can receive licenses resembles what most local jurisdictions allow, as well. Such organizations can include the following:
- Charitable organizations affiliated with school districts
- Mobile home park associations
- Senior citizens’ organizations
- Other organizations such as fraternal orders and societies, veterans organizations, religious and educational groups, chambers of commerce and business leagues, civic leagues, social welfare organizations, and other tax-exempt, nonprofit groups
The minimum age to play bingo or other charitable games in California is 18 years old.
Bingo in California tribal casinos
California additionally allows the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes that have gambling compacts to offer bingo at their casinos. Some of these Indian tribal casinos started out as bingo halls many decades ago before later becoming full-fledged gambling sites.
These tribal-state compacts each allow a number of Class III casino games such as slot machines and blackjack tables. Bingo is also generally among the permitted games. For many tribal casinos, it is one of the more popular attractions. You will also find electronic bingo games in many tribal casinos, sometimes called video bingo.
We should note as well that in addition to the nearly 70 tribal casinos with compacts to offer Class III games, there are other tribe-owned gambling facilities that offer Class II games only. Generally speaking, Class II games do not include Vegas-style casino games like slots or many table games. Rather Class II games only include non-banked card games, like traditional poker, and bingo.
Because the Class II facilities can offer bingo, you’ll not only find traditional bingo games there but also bingo-based electronic games that resemble the same slots games as in Class III casinos. In fact, sometimes you’ll see the exact same slots titles like 88 Fortunes, Wheel of Fortune, Double Diamond, and the like at these Class II facilities. Truth be told, these bingo slots are a lot more like slots than traditional bingo.
Bingo games from the California Lottery
The California State Lottery often also has instant win games or “scratchers” that are bingo-themed. These games invite players to scratch numbers on a “caller’s card” and see if they match the numbers on bingo cards.