Legal Online Poker in California

California has long been a paradise for poker players. There are dozens of poker rooms operating around the state, and the list includes some of the largest venues in the world. So, it’s understandably annoying that the Golden State can’t get together on legal online poker.

However, California’s size and unique relationship to gambling have created a situation with many stakeholders in conflict with one another. These groups are each powerful enough to stall out most forward progress on the issue.

As frustrating as it is, the plain truth is that there’s no real momentum for online poker in California at this time. For the moment, the only option available to Californians is sweepstakes poker sites.

PlayCA is your one-stop-shop for all the latest on California’s progress (or lack thereof) toward legal online poker. As developments occur, we will be sure to update you on what’s happening, what’s moving, and when you might be able to play real money poker online.

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Sweepstakes poker

For right now, the only legal online poker option available in California is to play on sweepstakes poker sites. The top sweepstakes site active today is Global Poker, but let’s start by discussing what a sweepstakes site is and how to spot one.

What are sweepstakes, and how do they work?

Everyone has played sweepstakes at one point or another. Whether it’s the Monopoly game at McDonald’s or the Publishers Clearing House giveaways, we have all played for the minute chance at great wealth or prizes. For most, it may seem doubtful that these sites are anything but scams.

Global Poker CaliforniaHowever, the good news is that they must, by law, award their advertised prizes to be a legal entity in most US states. As hard as it may be to believe, someone in the U.S. is winning a boat by sticking game pieces to a board that they acquired in a drive-through. The PCH Prize Patrol does go around awarding people $7,000 per week for life.

So, the first absolute must for legal sweepstakes is that someone has to win the prize. The second concrete rule is that it must be possible to win the grand prize without spending a dime. Sweepstakes must maintain a path to the jackpot that does not involve any kind of purchase whatsoever.

That rule is why any sweepstakes you play will have the disclaimer that there is “no purchase to play.” The organizers are not being generous, if they were to require any kind of payment, the sweepstakes would immediately become classified as a lottery, and would, therefore, be illegal in many states.

How does Global Poker work in CA?

Those two rules might seem to end the possibility of online poker play. However, sites like Global Poker have found a way to stay within compliance of the law to offer great poker action.

Since Global is the main sweepstakes poker site, we will discuss its specifics. However, be sure to look for similar rules at other sites, should you choose to play them. If there are no mechanisms designed to ensure compliance with the rules above, then the site is likely not kosher.

Global’s first bit of compliance comes in the form of its dual-currency system. For the convertible cash on-site to be eligible for withdrawal and transition into actual dollars, it cannot be possible to buy the site’s cash equivalent.

Instead, Global allows players to buy however much of its play currency as they wish. This currency is called Gold Coins, and neither has monetary value nor can be withdrawn from the site.

With most Gold Coin purchases, a player can also receive a quantity of the other currency, $weeps Coins, for free. This currency can be converted into a withdrawable instrument at the player’s discretion. Both currencies are valid for playing Global Poker games, although never at the same time.

However, it is also necessary for Global Poker to have a pathway that requires no purchase whatsoever. So, it is possible to receive $weeps Coins by sending a handwritten request to the Global Poker corporate office. This request must be in your handwriting and verifiable as your request.

Once they receive and verify the request, they will put a small amount of $weeps Coins into your account onsite. These coins are ready for play at that point.

Why legal online poker in California is stuck in limbo

Of course, with all the news about gambling expansions in other states, Californians could justifiably be confused about why the state cannot get going with fully legal online poker. After all, neither poker nor gambling, in general, are taboo commodities in the Golden State. There are dozens of poker venues scattered across the land, and most of them have steady player bases.

Too many fingers in the pie

Changes coming to CA cardroomsThe problem is that there are four main groups of people who have a stake in any kind of gambling expansion in California. These four groups are often at odds with one another and cannot agree on how any expansion would work.

There have been legislative movements to expand online gambling in the state since 2008. All of them have failed because each major stakeholder (and its political influence) goes a different direction.

The first group that has to be in any discussion along these lines are the Native American tribes within the state. California’s tribal interests earn billions of dollars annually from their land-based casinos.

These casinos are the only true venues of their kind in the state. The tribes vigorously defend both their exclusive right to offer the games that they do and their position at the table for any future gambling revenues. They argue that they have what amounts to a right of first refusal because of their sovereignty and compacts with the state.

Meanwhile, the California cardrooms feel as though they would be the natural stewards of online poker in the state. Given how much revenue they generate for their localities, it’s an argument that cannot be immediately dismissed. For instance, 70% of the City of Commerce’s tax revenue comes from Commerce Casino.

The state’s horse tracks also want to have their piece of any new pie that comes about. Horse racing in California, as is the case in other states, is declining, and the state’s industry has enough political clout to argue that it needs online poker to bolster its bottom lines and save the industry.

Finally, the state government itself, via the state lottery, might want to keep the management and resulting profits from online poker in-house, so to speak. Since other state lotteries often find themselves as the de facto regulators for gambling in the state, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the lottery would oversee online poker.

Lack of legislative precedent

Online poker expansion in California is also hurt by the fact that, for all of its cardrooms and activity, there isn’t much in the way of laws, rules, and regulations overseeing the industry. The only major requirement for most cardroom venues in the state is that the games must generally be banked by players, rather than the rooms themselves.

However, cardrooms have found a way to sidestep this requirement and offer games that go far beyond poker itself. By employing proposition players, they have found a way to host all kinds of card-based games, including poker, baccarat, and pai gow poker.

The cardrooms have used this loophole for decades now without any real pushback from the government. Attempts to crack down have not yielded any measurable results

This is a problem for lawmakers because of how laws are typically written. Most bills build off the existing legal environment and seek to confine the change to a specific portion of the law. Because there is no law to change in California, lawmakers are fairly stuck.

A broad approach won’t work, either. A law to address the loophole would, in the eyes of tribal interests, legitimize the existence of the loophole in the first place. Since tribal interests feel that they are the only legitimate gaming in the state, they have no interest in seeing a legislative affirmation for the activities of the cardrooms.

At the same time, legislators cannot simply close the loophole, either. The cardrooms are far too valuable as sources of tax revenue for their localities.

All the while, the cardrooms keep hiring prop players and spreading games, while the tribes offer their activities and fume about the cardrooms. It’s a mess, and there’s no clear way out.

Options available in Nevada

For the most part, Californians are relegated to playing on Global Poker or other sweepstakes sites if they want to play online. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the opportunity to the east of the state.

As it turns out, traditional gambling mecca Nevada also has online poker. Any Californian who wishes to slip across the state lines can take part in the Silver State’s offerings if they choose.

The only site of note in Nevada is WSOP.com. The other site in the state, Real Gaming Online Poker, suffers from extremely low traffic and terrible instability in terms of maintaining active games.

As the online arm of the world-famous tournament brand, WSOP.com has great action, especially for tournaments, and even offers the opportunity to play for actual WSOP bracelets exclusively onsite.

However, it is necessary to travel across state lines to play. So, the feasibility of playing on a Nevada poker site will vary according to each Californian’s living situation. But it bears mention as an option until California can get itself sorted out concerning online poker.

Online poker vs. live poker

Whether you are playing on Global Poker, another sweepstakes site, or have made the journey to Nevada to play, you need to know about some key differences between playing poker live and playing online.

Speed

The biggest difference between online and live poker is the sheer speed discrepancy. Online poker tables can sometimes deal more than 100 hands per hour, while the fastest live tables would probably only be able to manage 30 or so.

Part of the speed found online comes from the fact there is no live dealer. Also, you will find online is the use of a play clock. In most cases, you will have only a few seconds to make your decisions.

While it is possible to ask for more time, this feature is always limited and finite. By contrast, it is not uncommon to allow for some several-minute delays in live poker if a player has a big decision to make. Only a request from another player for a “clock” can set a hard-and-fast time limit on a live player’s decision.

Because the online game deals roughly three times the number of hands that a live game can, you will have three times as many hands to see and decisions to make. It’s also important to realize that the dreaded moments of bad luck in poker (bad beats and coolers) will also happen far more often online.

This last bit is why there is perpetual grumbling in the poker community about players receiving unfair deals or playing in rigged games. However, given that the sites use random number generators to shuffle, the online game is fairer than its live counterpart. The truth is simply that more hands mean more chances for bad luck to occur.

Skill

The speed of the game and the increased number of hands has also had a profound effect on the level of play that you will find online. Because they get so much practice, online players at any given buy-in level are usually far more proficient than live players at the same level.

You should probably start at a lower level than you usually do when you first visit a site. A winning player at a particular blind level in live games could quickly find be chopped up by the increased competition if they play in the same game online.

Until you get used to the speed, pace of play, and overall proficiency of your competition, it is highly recommended that you take it easy to begin. Nothing is stopping you from moving up later on.

Multi-tabling

Finally, it’s important to note that the physical realities of playing live mean that you can only play on a single table at any time. Online poker players do not suffer from a similar limitation, and many play in multiple games at once.

If you choose to play on multiple tables, realize that, along with the potential winnings, the potential for poor variance and losing also increases. If you have any reservations about or known leaks in your game, it’s probably a good idea to hold off on playing multiple tables at once until you hammer out the rough spots.

Also, if you happen to notice that one or more of the players at your table are also playing elsewhere, it’s a double-edged sword for you. On the one hand, they are likely to be distracted and/or unable to keep track of every detail in the game at hand.

However, multi-tablers who you often see tend to be pretty good players themselves. After all, they felt confident enough in their game to divide their attention.

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:

  • Limit hold’em
  • Pot-limit Omaha
  • Limit Omaha
  • Omaha Hi/Lo (Eight or Better)
  • Stud

Some poker sites, like PokerStars, have even been known to unveil their games or variants. The mix of games depends on the site. Since Global Poker is the most likely choice for most Californians, there is a game that deserves an explanation.

Crazy Pineapple

Global Poker, the most prominent sweepstakes poker site, has three different games available for play onsite. Two of those games, no-limit Texas hold’em and pot-limit Omaha, are well-known commodities and are not uncommon.

However, the third game on the site, Crazy Pineapple, is a bit more esoteric for most poker players. So, if you’re curious about playing this game, here’s how it works.

Crazy Pineapple is a variant of Texas 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 cards, rather than two. Then, after the round of preflop 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.

Can California tribes offer online poker?

Californians might be curious about whether online poker could come to them differently. After all, with so many Native American tribes in the state and the tribes at the forefront of gambling in California, it would make sense that they might have a claim regarding the ability to offer online poker.

Unfortunately, the answer is no. The courts have ruled definitively that California tribes cannot proceed with online poker until the state does so as well.

The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel attempted to push things forward in late 2014. The tribe opened a real-money bingo operation to measure the legal environment for expansion into online poker. They even went so far as to house the servers for the site on tribal lands and were careful to confine operations to that property.

As expected, the state quickly moved to enjoin the tribe from operating the site, declaring it in violation of California law. Needless to say, the tribe decided to fight the battle in court.

After four long years, the Ninth District Court of Appeals issued what is likely the final word on the matter in 2018. The site does violate California state law.

Now, a single glimmer of hope might be to argue that bingo and poker are different types of games. However, given the definitive answer the tribe received, it’s unlikely to be worth pursuing any kind of victory on the semantics of the case.

The bottom line is that online poker remains illegal in the state of California for everyone, even those who might have an inside track to it.

Poker rooms in California

Live poker is legal in California. The Golden State now boasts some of the biggest and best poker rooms in the country. There are around 70 brick-and-mortar card rooms in California.

Commerce Casino

PokerStars officially announce partnership in CaliforniaThe Commerce Casino, in LA, is one of the biggest card rooms in the world. It houses more than 250 tables and hosts regular hold ’em, Omaha and Stud cash games and tournaments. The Commerce also offers blackjack and three-card poker tables.

The Commerce is a significant stop on the World Poker Tour, the WPT LA Poker Classic. The LA Poker Classic costs $10,000 to enter and regularly attracts some of the most prominent players in the world.

Bicycle Hotel & Casino

“The Bike” in Bell Gardens, is also one of the largest cardrooms in the world.

Its poker room is more than 100,000 square feet and features 185 tables spreading Texas Hold ’em, Omaha, 7-Card Stud and Mexican Poker.

The Bike is also a regular host for the World Poker Tour. The Legends of Poker event has been held at the Bike for years.

Bay 101 Casino

The Bay 101, in San Jose, has been operating since the 1920s.

The Bay 101 offers daily tournaments and cash games including Omaha Hi-Lo, No Limit Hold ’em and Stud.

The card room is also a host stop on the World Poker Tour. The Bay 101 Shooting Star takes place at the poker room every March and costs more than $5,000 to enter.

Full list of poker rooms in California

California card rooms Address# of poker tables
The 19th Hole Casino & Lounge
2746 W. Tregallas Rd., Antioch, CA 94509
3
500 Club Casino
771 W. Shaw Ave., Clovis, CA 93612
18
Agua Caliente Casino
32-250 Bob Hope Dr., Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
10
Artichoke Joe's Casino
659 Huntington Ave., San Bruno, CA 94066
17
The Aviator Casino
1225 Airport Dr., Delano, CA 93215
6
Bankers Casino
111 Monterey St., Salinas, CA 93901
6
Barona Resort & Casino
1932 Wildcat Canyon Rd., Lakeside, CA 92040
15
Bay 101 Casino
1788 N. First St., San Jose, CA 95112
30
Bear River Casino
11 Bear Paws Way, Loleta, CA 95551
5
The Bicycle Hotel & Casino
888 Bicycle Casino Dr., Bell Gardens, CA 90201
185
Black Oak Casino
19400 Tuolumne Rd. North, Tuolumne, CA 95379
6
Blue Lake Casino
777 Casino Way, Blue Lake, CA 95525
5
Cache Creek Casino
14455 Highway 16, Brooks, CA 95606
14
California Grand Casino
5988 Pacheco Blvd., Martinez, CA 94553
14
Capitol Casino
411 N. 16th St., Sacramento, CA 95811
10
Casino 99
175 E. 20th St., Chico, CA 95928
5
Casino Chico
968 E. Ave., Chico, CA 95926
3
Casino Club
1885 Hilltop Dr., Redding, CA 96002
5
Casino M8trix
1887 Matrix Blvd., San Jose, CA 95110
16
Casino Marysville
515 4th St., Marysville, CA 95901
3
Casino Merced
1459 Martin Luther King Jr. Way #5, Merced, CA 95340
2
Casino Monterey Marina Club
204 Carmel Ave., Marina, CA 93933
4
Casino Pauma
777 Pauma Reservation Rd., Pauma Valley, CA 92061
5
Casino Real
1355 N. Main St., Manteca, CA 95336
6
Central Coast Casino
359 W. Grand Ave., Grover Beach, CA 93433
4
Chumash Casino Resort
3400 CA-246, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
12
Club One Casino
1033 Van Ness Ave., Fresno, CA 93721
51
Colusa Casino Resort
3770 CA-45, Colusa, CA 95932
3
Commerce Casino
6131 E. Telegraph Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90040
210
Coyote Valley Casino
7751 N. State St., Redwood Valley, CA 95470
6
Crystal Casino
123 E. Artesia Blvd., Compton, CA 90220
12
Diamond Jim's Casino
118 20th St. W., Rosamond, CA 93560
10
Diamond Mountain Casino
900 Skyline Dr., Susanville, CA 96130
4
The Deuce Lounge & Casino
30435 Road 68, Visalia, CA 93291
4
Eagle Mountain Casino
681 S. Tule Rd., Porterville, CA 93258
3
Elk Valley Casino
2500 Howland Hill Rd., Crescent City, CA 95531
6
Empire Sportsmen's Association
5001 McHenry Ave., Modesto, CA 95356
3
Feather Falls Casino
3 Alverda Dr., Oroville, CA 95966
12
FLB Entertainment Center
511 E. Bidwell St., Folsom, CA 95630
3
The Gardens Casino
11871 Carson St., Hawaiian Gardens, CA 90716
110
Garlic City Club
8630 San Ysidro Ave. #100, Gilroy, CA 95020
6
Golden West Casino
1001 S. Union Ave., Bakersfield, CA 93307
40
Graton Resort & Casino
288 Golf Course Dr. W., Rohnert Park, CA 94928
20
Harrah's Resort Southern California
777 Harrah's Resorts Southern California Way, Valley Center, CA 92082
12
Hollywood Park Casino
3883 W. Century Blvd., Inglewood, CA 90303
51
Hotel Del Rio & Casino
209 2nd St., Isleton, CA 95641
3
Hustler Casino
1000 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, CA 90247
50
Jackson Rancheria Casino
12222 New York Ranch Rd., Jackson, CA 95642
6
Jamul Casino
14145 Campo Rd., Jamul, CA 91935
10
Kings Card Club
6111 W. Lane Suite 103, Stockton, CA 95210
3
La Fuerza Billiards
175 E. Antelope Ave., Woodlake, CA 93286
2
Lake Elsinore Casino
20930 Malaga Rd., Lake Elsinore, CA 92530
16
Larry Flynt's Lucky Lady Casino
1045 W. Rosecrans Ave., Gardena, CA 90247
24
Limelight Card Room
1014 Alhambra Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95816
3
Livermore Casino
3571 First St., Livermore, CA 94551
9
Lucky 7 Casino
350 N. Indian Rd., Smith River, CA 95567
4
Lucky Chances Casino
1700 Hillside Blvd., Colma, CA 94014
29
Lucky Lady Card Room
5526 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego, CA 92115
5
Magnolia House Casino at Sheepherders Inn
11275 Folsom Blvd., Rancho Cordova, CA 95742
5
Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa
49500 Seminole Dr., Cabazon, CA 92230
13
Napa Valley Casino
3466 Broadway St., American Canyon, CA 94503
7
Oaks Card Club
4097 San Pablo Ave., Emeryville, CA 94608
35
Ocean's 11 Casino
121 Brooks St., Oceanside, CA 92054
50
Oceanview Casino
709 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, CA 95060
3
Old Cayucos Tavern & Card Room
130 N. Ocean Ave., Cayucos, CA 93430
1
Outlaws Card Parlour
9850 E. Front St., Atascadero, CA 93422
4
Paiute Palace Casino
2742 N. Sierra Hwy., Bishop, CA 93514
2
Pala Casino
11154 Hwy. 76, Pala, CA 92059
13
Palace Poker Casino
22821 Mission Blvd., Hayward, CA 94541
11
Parkwest Casino 580
968 N. Canyons Pkwy., Livermore, CA 94551
2
Parkwest Casino Cordova
2801 Prospect Park Dr., Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
2
Parkwest Casino Lodi
1800 S. Cherokee Ln., Lodi, CA 95420
7
Parkwest Casino Lotus
6010 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95824
5
Parkwest Casino Sonoma
5151 Montero Way, Petaluma, CA 94954
9
Paso Robles Central Coast Casino
1144 Black Oak Dr., Paso Robles, CA 93446
6
Pechanga Resort Casino
45000 Pechanga Pkwy., Temecula, CA 92592
54
Pete's 881 Club
721 Lincoln Ave., San Rafael, CA 94901
4
Pinnacle Casino Bar & Grill
955 Front St., Soledad, CA 93960
4
Players Casino
6580 Auto Center Dr., Ventura, 93003
16
Poker Flats Casino
1714 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Merced, CA 95340
4
Quechan Casino
525 Algadones Rd., Winterhaven, CA 92283
8
Red Hawk Casino
1 Red Hawk Pkwy., Placerville, CA 95667
6
Rogelio's Dine and Sleep Inn
34 Main St., Isleton, CA 95641
4
San Manuel Casino777 San Manuel Blvd., Highland, CA 92346
38
San Pablo Lytton Casino
13255 San Pablo Ave., San Pablo, CA 94806
2
Seven Mile Casino
285 Bay Blvd., Chula Vista, CA 91910
9
Stars Casino
775 W. Clover Rd., Tracy, CA 95376
4
The Saloon at Stones Gambling Hall
6508 Antelope Rd., Citrus Heights, CA 95621
17
Sundowner Card Room
15638 Ave. 296, Visalia, CA 93292
2
Sycuan Casino
5469 Casino Way, El Cajon, CA 92019
19
Table Mountain Casino
8184 Table Mountain Rd., Friant, CA 93626
10
Tachi Palace Casino Resort
17225 Jersey Ave., Lemoore, CA 93245
7
Thunder Valley Casino
1200 Athens Ave., Lincoln, CA 95648
24
Tortoise Rock Casino
73829 Baseline Rd., Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
2
Towers Casino
115 Bank St., Grass Valley, CA 95945
5
Turlock Poker Room
2321 W. Main St., Suite C, Turlock, CA 95380
7
Twin Pine Casino & Hotel
22223 CA-29, Middletown, CA 95461
3
Win-River Resort & Casino
2100 Redding Rancheria Rd, Redding, CA 96001
7

California online poker legislative history

online poker California bill 2017The illegality of online poker in California is largely enumerated by a single section in the California Penal Code. Section 330 of the Code declares that a person who involves themselves with “any banking or percentage game played with cards” (among other things) is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to criminal sanction.

For more than a decade, California lawmakers submitted bills to legalize online poker every single year. Capturing the history of every single bill’s ultimate demise would be both onerous and depressing.

There were at least 15 different bills put into the legislative process over the years that would have allowed for online poker in the state. All of them have failed.

In the past few years, it has seemed as though the fervor to pass such a law has waned. Quite frankly, the eyes of most legislatures are on sports betting now, because of its new legality and greater potential for profit.

At this point, it’s probably unlikely that online poker will come to California before sports betting. Since the timeframe for the latter’s debut remains completely unclear, the launch of online poker in California must reside in the same category for now.

Federal gambling regulations

California card rooms and tribal casinos can’t launch online poker rooms because of the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or UIGEA. The UIGEA was put on the books in 2006 and prohibits American businesses from knowingly processing payments for any wagers placed over the internet.

The UIGEA doesn’t apply to licensed companies operating in states that explicitly legalized internet gambling, which is why Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware are allowed to run online poker sites with this law still in effect.

Numerous California Assemblymen and Senators, such as Roderick Wright, Lou Correa, Lloyd Levine, Mike Gatto, Adam Gray, Isadore Hall, and Reggie Jones-Sawyer, have tried pushing for similar regulations to be introduced in the Golden State since 2008, but none of their proposals have gained enough support to make it to the governor’s desk.

Native American online poker

In November 2014, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel tribe tried to take matters into its own hands. The tribe launched a real-money bingo site called Desert Rose Bingo in an attempt to test the UIGEA prohibition and potentially lay the groundwork for a future Native American internet poker project.

The servers that powered the site were located within the reservation, and the tribe maintained that it had the right to offer its gambling products online because the compact signed with the state authorized it to offer Class II games on tribal land.

The government immediately filed an injunction, forcing the site to be temporarily shut down. The legal battle lasted four years, and in 2018, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled that the operation was illegal.

The judge agreed with the tribe regarding its jurisdiction over gambling on Indian land but noted that the act of placing a wager took place elsewhere on the territory of California, constituting a violation of the UIGEA.

This ruling proved without a shadow of a doubt that even the Native Californian tribes would not be able to launch legal poker sites without statewide legalization.

California Penal Code

Changes coming to CA cardroomsOver the years, California poker players became discouraged with the lack of progress on the legislative front, and many turned to offshore poker platforms to get their internet poker fix. After all, these platforms can’t be shut down by the government as they are typically based in places like Panama or Antigua.

In the world of offshore gaming, the UIGEA doesn’t prevent you from enjoying the game; it merely inconveniences you when you try to make a deposit.

Unfortunately, the legality of playing on offshore sites is a contentious issue. Section 330 of the California Penal Code states that participating in any banking or percentage game constitutes a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

However, experts on gambling law can’t seem to agree on whether online poker offered by offshore platforms can be classified as a banking or percentage game. Pondering the technicalities of this issue should probably be left to people like Chuck Humphrey or Nelson Rose – we just want to emphasize that determining whether an online player can be punished if caught is impossible without precedent.

California online poker history

2018

As expected, 2018 was not the year for California online poker. For the first time in a decade, no poker-related proposals were put forward during the legislative session. The national gambling debate shifted to sports betting after SCOTUS overturned the federal PASPA ban in May.

Unfortunately, California needs to amend its constitution before its lawmakers can start working on a bookmaking bill. Assemblyman Adam Gray proposed putting this issue on the November 2018 ballot, but his initiative didn’t gain enough support before the elections.

As a result, Californians won’t get to vote on sports betting legalization until November 2020. If the online poker camp decides to stick to Jones-Sawyer’s plan and pair its new bill with this issue, 2019 will be another year in which we won’t see any meaningful legislative action.

On the judicial front, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel tribe lost the Desert Rose Bingo case in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The online bingo operation that was supposed to pave the way for tribal internet poker was deemed illegal. The court dismissed the argument that all servers were located on tribal land and based its decision on the fact that the act of betting occurred elsewhere.

2017

CA Online PokerCalifornia Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer introduced AB 1677 in February 2017. The goal of the bill was to legalize and regulate online poker in California. No wording in the bill even addressed the operator suitability issue. It looked like an attempt to start over.

Two months later, with no real movement on the bill, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians withdrew from its alliance with PokerStars.

California legislators never even got around to discussing online poker and when last day for the State Senate or Assembly to pass bills came on Sept. 15, California online poker was dead again.

2016

In 2016, California came closer to passing legislation that would legalize and regulate online poker than it ever has before. Yet still, by the time the state’s legislative session ended in August, no bill had passed.

As it had been in the past, the biggest stumbling block for online poker legislation in the state in 2016 was operator suitability.

A tribal coalition led by Pechanga and Agua Caliente was pushing for a 10-year ban against PokerStars and parent company Amaya. PokerStars itself, alongside in-state partners like the Morongo and San Manuel tribes and Commerce, Bicycle and Hawaiian Gardens cardrooms, wanted regulators to make the decision, but appeared willing to accept a five-year penalty or $20 million payment in lieu of it.

In June, an online poker bill passed through the State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. It was the furthest an online poker bill had ever gone in California. Then-Assemblyman Adam Gray, author of the bill, introduced amendments supporting a five-year ban for persons that took bets in California after Dec. 31, 2006. Depending on how the language in the amendments was interpreted, it may have also included a lifetime ban for operators that did the same.

Neither side seems happy with it. PokerStars went from calling the tribal coalition obstructionists, to standing in the way of the online poker bill itself.

The bill never made it through Assembly, Senate, or came anywhere close to making it to the Governor’s desk.

The year 2016 started with the Horse Racing industry, Tribal casinos, and online poker operators all on different sides of the online poker issue in California. It ended much the same way.

2015

In many ways, 2015 is similar to the story of 2014, with the notable difference that political attention to the issue of online poker began earlier in the year and appears to have greater force behind it.

There are currently two primary competing visions for online poker in California – AB 9 and AB 167 – both of which sit with the Governmental Organization Committee in the Assembly.

There is an additional legislative vehicle for online poker in the Assembly: AB 431, sponsored by Assemblyman Adam Gray and co-authored by State Sen. Isadore Hall. AB 431 is currently a “shell” bill, meaning it contains little in the way of actual details or language.

You can read more about and track each bill using California’s online legislative information system.

As in past years, the key divisions revolve around who is eligible for licensure as an online poker operator.

2014

In February 2014, two online poker bills were announced.  SB 1366 would allow online poker only.  It included a bad actor clause that would forbid any company from operating in the state if it took action from U.S. players after December 31, 2006.

AB 2291 was a similar bill.  One difference is that the bad actor clause was left open for future debate.

On April 23, 2014, the California Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization held a hearing to discuss online poker.  Topics included the history of online poker in the U.S., testimony from executives involved in the regulated industry, as well as views from tribal and commercial gaming companies.

The hearing appeared to be a positive for the online poker industry.  One opponent of gambling in general was cut off from his speech.  Andy Abboud, VP of Government Affairs for Las Vegas Sands, had his company’s motives questioned by the committee.  All members of the committee that spoke appeared to be educated about the online poker industry.

Prior to 2014

Online poker has been an issue in California for nearly a decade at this point. The state has seen numerous bills prior to the handful currently circulating in Sacramento.

Six bills in the past had been introduced but failed to pass in the California Legislature.  Those bills were the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2013, SB 51, SB 678, SB 1463, SB 40 and SB 45. These bills would have legalized, regulated and taxed online poker in California.

Is online poker legal in California? Read more about that complex question in this feature article.

California Poker FAQ

Is online poker legal in California?

No. Online poker is prohibited by Section 330 of the California Penal Code.

Will online poker be legal in California soon?

It does not seem likely. There are no active bills in the California legislature to legalize online poker, and most lawmakers have turned their attention to sports betting in recent years.

When was the last time that California attempted to legalize online poker?

2017. Since then, legislators have appeared not to see the point of attempting.

What sites might open when online poker becomes legal in California?

Hard to say, since there’s no legalization on the table right now. However, given California’s immense population and resulting profit opportunity, it’s a good bet that every major player will launch a poker site if it becomes legal to play.

Is there anywhere I can play right now?

The only options to play online poker are either through sweepstakes sites like Global Poker or by driving across the state border to the east and visiting Nevada.

Can I play in Nevada even if I’m a resident of California?

Yes. The only requirements are that you are 21 or over and inside the state lines.

What are these sites that pop up if I search for online poker California?

Sites that advertise online poker service to Californians are offshore sites that are based outside of the US.

Are they safe to play?

Not really. Many players can play offshore without incident. However, it’s a risky proposition because of the reduced information and options that players have available in the case of a dispute.

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