Even though California has a long history as one of the country’s most popular poker destinations, the state does not offer legal online poker for real money. Some California lawmakers have tried to legalize it in the state, but they have yet to succeed. That means for now the only online poker options available to California players are social and sweepstakes poker sites.
California has had several online poker bills introduced over the years. In fact, those efforts began well before New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states legalized online poker. However, legislation to introduce “intrastate” online poker in California (that is, in-state only) has yet to advance.
If California were to legalize online poker (even just for in-state players to compete against one another), the state would enjoy a healthy player pool. With 40 million residents, California has the highest population of any state in the US. In fact, that’s a few million more than the four states listed above (NJ, NV, PA, MI) combined.
Here at PlayCA, we’re keeping a close watch on any new developments regarding legal online poker in the state. Meanwhile, read on for an overview of the past, present, and possible future of real money online poker in California.
Is online poker legal in California?
No, at least not when it comes to playing online poker for real money. Online poker is prohibited by Section 330 of the California Penal Code, where it states:
“Every person who plays or bets at or against any of those prohibited games is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punishable by a fine not less than one hundred dollars ($100) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by both the fine and imprisonment.”
The only legal option for Californians who want to play poker online is a sweepstake or social gaming site.
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Social and sweepstakes online poker in California
For right now, the only legal online poker option available in California is to play on social and sweepstakes poker sites. The top sweepstakes site active today is Global Poker. Like other sweepstakes online poker sites, Global Poker employs virtual currencies rather than real money for their games. After playing with the virtual currencies, players can redeem their winnings for cash prizes.
Games and tournaments at Global Poker
Creating a Global Poker account is free, and you can start playing games as soon as the site verifies your account. The site features both “cash” games and tournaments that you can play with the site’s virtual currencies.
Tournaments are especially popular at Global Poker. These can sometimes feature huge fields and large prize pools thanks to the fact that Global Poker is available in nearly every US state and across most of Canada.
The site hosts numerous daily and weekly poker tournaments like the Daily Hundo, the Bonanza, the Sunday Scrimmage, the Golden Scrimmage, and the Gold Rush. In addition, there are regular tournament series such as the Eagle Cup, the Grizzly Games, the Rattlesnake Open, and The Goat. You’ll also often find seasonal series like the Spring Carnival or Summer Ring Dash, so keep an eye out for those, as well.
Click here for our full review of Global Poker.
Are offshore poker sites safe for California players?
If you search online, you might find poker sites inviting players from California to create accounts and play games for real money. You should be aware that such sites operate outside of the country and do not follow US or California gambling laws. As such, regulators in California have no authority over the sites, making them risky for California players.
If you are in California and run into any trouble playing on an offshore poker site, you have no guarantee that the site will address your issue. If you suspect fraud or any sort of improprieties in the games such as collusion, ghosting, or multi-accounting, you can only hope the site will respond to your concerns. The same goes for issues involving the security of your funds or personal information. If something goes wrong, you have no legal recourse since the sites are not beholden to US or California laws or regulations.
Legal, regulated online poker sites in California must comply with a host of rules in order to operate. If an issue arises on a regulated online poker site, the site must respond to player concerns or complaints and remedy any problems accordingly or risk losing its license.
That’s not the case with offshore poker sites, which is why we recommend that California players steer clear of them. The fact that California gambling law technically forbids gambling on such sites is yet another reason not to play on them.
When will California have legal online poker sites?
It does not appear as if legal online poker for real money will be available in California any time soon. When it comes to gambling expansion in the state, the current focus is on possibly introducing sports betting. While such an expansion could include online sports betting in California, other types of online gambling — including online poker — are not part of the discussion at present.
The earliest that sports betting could come to California is likely 2024, following the failures of Props 26 and 27. If online poker were to become legal, that would very likely happen at a later date, meaning 2025 at the earliest.
That does not mean there is no interest in legalizing online poker for real money in California. Until recently, state lawmakers were introducing legislation every year to do just that. After all, poker is hugely popular in the state thanks to the many California cardrooms as well as poker rooms at California tribal casinos.
It may take a while, but the legalization of sports betting could help pave the way for other gambling expansions in California, including online poker.
Real money online poker options in Nevada
As noted, a handful of other states have legalized online poker, including California’s neighbor to the east, Nevada. Currently, there is one real money online poker option in the Silver State, WSOP.com.
The World Series of Poker is the most recognizable poker brand in the world. The WSOP Nevada online poker site participates in a multi-state network that includes WSOP New Jersey and 888 Poker in Delaware. Players at WSOP Nevada can play a variety of cash games and multi-table tournaments, including WSOP bracelet events.
Anyone who is 21 or older can play on the WSOP Nevada site when located within Nevada borders. That includes Californians who travel across the border to visit the casinos in Las Vegas or elsewhere in Nevada. In fact, you can create a WSOP Nevada account and even deposit funds while in California, but you cannot play on the site from there. You have to be in Nevada to play the real money games at WSOP.com, and the site uses geolocation technology to ensure that is the case.
Driving to another state to play online poker is not for everyone. However, for Californians already traveling to Nevada for other reasons, it’s worth keeping in mind that you can play poker online for real money there while we wait to see if California chooses to legalize it.
Popular real money poker games
You can find many of your favorite poker games in online poker rooms. Most of the games from your childhood and friendly games are playable on poker sites.
There’s no question that the most popular game in the world is no-limit Texas hold’em. Regardless of what online poker application you choose, you will be able to find an NLHE game, if nothing else.
Other popular poker games commonly found online include the following:
- Pot-limit Omaha
- Omaha hi-lo (eight or better)
- Fixed-limit hold’em
- Seven-card stud
Some poker sites also offer other poker games, and some have even been known to invent their own unique variants. The mix of games available depends on the site.
Crazy Pineapple and other poker games
Since the social and sweepstakes site Global Poker is the most likely choice for most Californians, we should mention games available there, including a few that are decidedly off the beaten path.
Unsurprisingly, Global Poker features both no-limit hold ’em and pot-limit Omaha, the two most popular variants on the site as well as everywhere else poker is played. You can also play Omaha hi-lo there. As noted the site has both “cash” games (using virtual currency) and tournaments, including multi-table tournaments and sit-n-go’s.
Global Poker additionally offers Crazy Pineapple, a variant of hold’em that is perhaps a bit more esoteric for most poker players. Just like in hold ’em, players compose their hands from a combination of hole cards and community cards, and there are four rounds of betting.
The key difference is that Crazy Pineapple begins with each player receiving three hole cards rather than two. Then after the round of pre-flop betting, the player must choose one of the three cards to discard before continuing in the hand.
In terms of strategy, more cards usually mean stronger hands are required to win. While not quite at the same level as Omaha, Crazy Pineapple will typically yield more possibilities for making a premium five-card hand. If you have a chance, you might give Crazy Pineapple a try. It’s a nice option, if for no other reason than as a palate cleanser from all those hands of hold’em.
Global Poker also offers a couple of other alternate variants. You can play Caribbean Poker there, a dealer-versus-player game popular in many live casinos. The site also has a variant called Surge Poker, a “fast-fold” game that involves joining a pool of players who change seats after each hand.
Live poker in California
While online poker is not legal in California, live poker most certainly is. In fact, the state hosts many legal cardrooms, including some of the largest in the country. Many of the state’s tribal casinos have poker rooms as well, giving Californians even more options to play.
Legal and licensed poker has a lengthy history in California, dating back to the first Gardena card clubs of the 1930s. Today, there are nearly 100 commercial cardrooms in the state. Some are large enough to appear similar to casinos, even though technically they are only cardrooms and don’t feature a full range of casino games. Even so, many of the larger poker rooms still include the word “casino” in their names, such as The Commerce Casino & Hotel, The Bicycle Hotel & Casino, and The Gardens Casino.
These card rooms typically feature poker, sometimes exclusively. No-Limit Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular game, but the larger rooms will also spread fixed-limit hold ’em, Pot Limit Omaha, seven-card stud, and sometimes razz and other variants. Some also feature “casino poker” games like pai gow, three card poker, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em.
The larger poker rooms not only offer cash games but often host major tournament series such as the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker Circuit. “Mid-major” tours like Mid-States Poker Tour and RunGood Poker Series also frequently include stops at California poker rooms. Among these non-tribal cardrooms, here are some of the largest in the state:
- The Commerce Casino & Hotel (Los Angeles) — 200-plus tables
- The Bicycle Hotel & Casino (Bell Gardens) — 185 tables
- The Gardens Casino (Hawaiian Gardens) — 184 tables
- Hollywood Park Casino (Inglewood) — 51 tables
- Hustler Casino (Gardena) — 50 tables
While each of these cardrooms is located in the southern part of California, there are plenty of popular cardrooms scattered all over the state.
The Central Valley region has a number of cardrooms, including the Club One Casino (31 tables) and 500 Club Casino (20 tables), both in Fresno. Northern California features many popular cardrooms as well, such as the Oaks Card Club (35 tables) and the Lucky Chances Casino (19 tables), both in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Poker at tribal casinos in California
There are nearly 70 tribal casinos in California, many of which feature poker rooms. Here are some of the largest:
- Pechanga Resort Casino (Temecula) — 42 tables
- Thunder Valley Casino (Lincoln) — 24 tables
- Graton Resort & Casino (Rohnert Park) — 20 tables
- Cache Creek Casino (Brooks) — 14 tables
- Morongo Casino (Cabazon) — 13 tables
For a comprehensive rundown of all of the California cardrooms as well as the poker rooms at tribal casinos, click here.
History of online poker in California
Technically speaking, real money online poker has never been legal in California, although that’s not for lack of effort by some to make it so.
In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) became law. This federal law prohibited financial transaction providers from sending funds to and from online gambling sites. Then on April 15, 2011, the US Department of Justice unsealed indictments and civil complaints against multiple online poker sites with UIGEA violations among the charges. Following that Black Friday, most online poker rooms have stayed away from California.
Starting in 2008, lawmakers began drafting and eventually introducing bills in both the state Assembly and Senate designed to legalize intrastate online poker games in California. The bills described many different plans with the state’s gaming tribes, card rooms, racetracks, and other entities variously proposed as potential online poker licensees.
International online poker giant PokerStars became involved and began lobbying to launch in California. In response, some bills included “bad actor” clauses effectively excluding PokerStars for a number of years or permanently thanks to the site having served California players during the post-UIGEA, pre-Black Friday period (2006-2011).
PokerStars began opposing bills that would exclude them while other groups opposed bills PokerStars supported. Layering those battles atop the already complex politics surrounding gambling in the state made it difficult for any legislation to gain support, let alone enough consensus to become law. The last online poker bills appeared in 2017, and like the previous ones failed to advance.
It doesn’t appear online poker will be considered again until after California settles upon whether to legalize sports betting. We’ll keep an eye on any new developments, however, and let you know if and when online poker gets a seat once more at the legislative table.
California online poker FAQ
Can you legally play online poker in California?
Real money online poker is illegal in California as it violates the state’s gambling law. However, you can play online poker at social and sweepstakes sites like Global Poker that use virtual currencies.
When was the last time California attempted to legalize online poker?
Following a decade’s worth of California online poker legislation being introduced, the last poker bills appeared in 2017. Since then, lawmakers and other interested parties have been more concerned with sports betting than online poker.
Where can I play legal online poker?
Californians can travel to Nevada to play online poker if they wish. You need not be a resident of NV to play there, but you do need to be physically located in Nevada to play on an NV online poker site. At present, there are also legal online poker rooms in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Delaware.
Is PokerStars allowed in California?
No, despite past efforts to launch in the state, PokerStars does not operate in California and thus Californians cannot play on the site for real money. They can, however, play on the play money version of PokerStars.
Who will oversee online poker if and when it is legal in California?
The California Gambling Control Commission currently oversees gambling in the state and would likely be called upon to regulate online poker should it become legal.