While Las Vegas gets all the attention as the nation’s gambling capital, Southern California is a significant gambling destination in its own right, with more than two dozen tribal casinos. That means residents and visitors to “SoCal” needn’t travel far to find numerous retail locations offering all of their favorite casino games like slots, video poker, baccarat and blackjack, along with “California roulette” and “California craps.”
Read on for a full rundown of all that Southern California casinos have to offer, including information on casinos close to each large city, details regarding the largest casinos in the region, discussion of the most popular casino games among Southern Californians, and a list of California tribes operating casinos in the region.
Be aware that this page focuses on Southern California casinos and not the state’s many card rooms, some of which call themselves “casinos.” Even though some card rooms are quite large and offer a variety of games, they aren’t casinos in the technical sense and do not offer slots and other games only available in California’s tribal casinos.
For more on the Golden State’s almost 100 card rooms as well as further discussion of the difference between card rooms and casinos, check out our detailed look at California card rooms.
Sweepstakes casinos in California with real cash prizes
Who can legally operate casinos in California?
Unlike some states like neighboring Nevada that have commercial casinos, in California, only federally recognized Native American tribes with tribal-state gambling compacts can legally operate casinos in the state. There are actually over 100 such tribes in CA, and 75 of them have Class III gambling compacts. Most of those tribes (63, to be exact) operate casinos in California.
It was the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 that first made it possible for tribes to operate casinos on their lands. That federal law resulted in part from lawsuits between tribes and states.
In fact, two Southern California tribes located in Riverside County were involved in those legal battles, the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. The case of California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians ultimately ended up in the US Supreme Court, where a ruling in favor of the tribe helped reaffirm tribal sovereignty and paved the way for lawmakers to pass the IGRA in late 1988.
It would take until the late 1990s for the first tribal-state compacts to go into effect in California. The first tribal casino opened in 2001, the Pala Casino near San Diego.
It is illegal otherwise for any non-tribal entities to operate a retail casino in California, per California Penal Code Section 330. The card rooms that we mentioned above are non-tribal, but as far as casinos are concerned, only the tribes with compacts can legally operate them.
California’s gambling law also forbids online gambling in the state for real money. As a result, you won’t find any real money online casinos such as in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey or other states that have legalized them. Californians can, however, play online casino games at social casinos like Pulsz Slots and Casino. They can also play casino games online at sweepstakes sites like Chumba Casino, LuckyLand Slots, Funzpoints and Global Poker that use virtual currencies where winnings can be redeemed for cash prizes.
Which Southern California cities have casinos?
Only about a third of California’s tribal casinos are in Southern California, although you’ll find most of the largest ones there.
Los Angeles is the largest city in California and the second-largest in the entire country (behind New York City). However, there are no Native American reservations within the Los Angeles city limits, so no California tribal casinos have Los Angeles addresses.
In fact, there are no tribal casinos situated anywhere in Los Angeles County, although you will find a number of large card rooms there that call themselves casinos such as Commerce Casino, Bicycle Casino and Gardens Casino.
That said, you will find many tribal casinos southeast of Los Angeles in nearby Riverside and San Diego counties. And about an hour east of LA in San Bernardino County is one of the state’s largest casinos, the Yaamava’ Resort & Casino in Highland.
A little further east (about 85 to 90 miles away) are a couple of the state’s other large casinos, the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon and the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula.
There are several tribal casinos in San Diego County, which borders Mexico to the south. All of them are within close proximity to San Diego. The largest of those casinos include the following:
- Barona Resort & Casino (Lakeside, 20 miles northeast)
- Jamul Casino (Jamul, 20 miles east)
- Pala Casino Spa Resort (Pala, 50 miles north)
- Sycuan Casino & Resort (El Cajon, 15 miles northeast)
- Viejas Casino and Resort (Alpine, 30 miles east)
Also, there are two casinos in Valley Center about 40 miles north of San Diego, Harrah’s Resort Southern California and Valley View Casino & Hotel.
Riverside County is home to 10 tribal casinos, many of which are within a short drive from Riverside, which is about an hour east of Los Angeles.
These include the three largest tribal casinos in the state (about which you can find more information below):
- Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa (Cabazon, 35 miles east)
- Pechanga Resort Casino (Temecula, 40 miles south)
- Yaamava’ Resort & Casino (Highland, 15 miles northeast)
Yaamava’ Resort & Casino is even closer to San Bernardino, just a quick 10-minute drive.
Five largest casinos in Southern California
The 25 tribal casinos in Southern California include a number of large resort destinations. The three biggest casinos in the state are all here, along with several other popular properties. Here are the details of the five largest tribal casinos in Southern California.
Pechanga Resort Casino
- Address: 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula, CA 92592
- Phone: 877-PECHANGA (877-732-4264)
- Slots: 5,000
- Table games: 153 tables
- Poker room: 42 tables
- Minimum age: 21
- Operating tribe: Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians
Yaamava’ Resort & Casino
- Address: 777 San Manuel Blvd., Highland, CA 92346
- Phone: 800-359-2464
- Slots: 6,700+
- Table games: over 150 tables
- Poker room: n/a
- Minimum age: 21
- Operating tribe: San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa
- Address: 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, CA 92230
- Phone: 800-252-4499
- Slots: 4,000
- Table games: 80 tables
- Poker room: 13 tables
- Minimum age: 18
- Operating tribe: Morongo Band of Mission Indians
Barona Resort & Casino
- Address: 1932 Wildcat Canyon Road, Lakeside, CA 92040
- Phone: 888-7-BARONA (888-722-7662)
- Slots: 2,200+
- Table games: 75+ tables
- Poker room: n/a
- Minimum age: 18
- Operating tribe: Barona Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians
Viejas Casino and Resort
- Address: 5000 Willows Road, Alpine, CA 91901
- Phone: 619-445-5400
- Slots: 2,500
- Table games: 50 tables
- Poker room: n/a
- Minimum age: 21 for casino; 18 for Viejas Bingo & Slot Parlor
- Operating tribe: Viejas Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians
Most popular games at Southern California casinos
When you visit a Southern California casino, you’ll discover practically all of the same favorite games as those in casinos in Las Vegas and around the country.
Slot machines are first and foremost the most popular game in these casinos, just like everywhere else. You’ll also find that most Southern California casinos have blackjack games, baccarat, poker, and bingo, as well as popular “casino poker” games like Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Pai Gow, and Three Card Poker.
A lot of them likewise have both roulette and craps, although because of California law these games use cards or other means to decide the results. California casinos cannot legally offer games using a ball or dice, which is why you’ll find the slightly different “California craps” or “California roulette” instead. Don’t worry, though — these modified versions play very much like their traditional equivalents.
Here are the games you can expect to encounter in many Southern California casinos:
- Video poker
- Pai Gow Poker
- Pai Gow Tiles
- Three Card Poker
- Four Card Poker
- Spanish 21
- Chase the Flush
- DJ Wild Stud
- Ultimate Texas Hold’em
- California craps (aka “card craps”)
- California roulette (aka “card roulette”)
Some Southern California casinos have off-track betting facilities, as well. For example, Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio has an OTB racebook. Pechanga Resort Casino likewise has offered off-track betting on horse racing.
No casinos in the state have sportsbooks, however, at least not yet. Efforts to legalize sports betting in California continue in earnest. If and when that happens, sports betting is likely to become another option at California’s tribal casinos.
California tribes that operate casinos in Southern California
California as a whole has over 100 federally recognized Native American tribes, about two-thirds of which have tribal-state gambling compacts. Of that total, 22 tribes currently operate 25 casinos in Southern California.
Here’s a list showing which tribes operate casinos in the southern part of the state along with their locations.
|Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians||Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs||Palm Springs|
|Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians||Agua Caliente Casino Resort and Spa Rancho Mirage||Rancho Mirage|
|Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians||Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City||Cathedral City|
|Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians||Augustine Casino||Coachella|
|Barona Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians||Barona Resort & Casino||Lakeside|
|Cabazon Band of Mission Indians||Fantasy Springs Resort Casino||Indio|
|Cahuilla Band of Indians||Cahuilla Casino||Anza|
|Campo Band of Diegueno Mission Indians||Golden Acorn Casino & Travel Center||Campo|
|Chemehuevi Indian Tribe||Havasu Landing Resort & Casino||Havasu Lake|
|Hopland Band of Pomo Indians||Sho-Ka-Wah Casino||Hopland|
|Jamul Indian Village of California||Jamul Casino||Jamul|
|Morongo Band of Mission Indians||Morongo Casino Resort & Spa||Cabazon|
|Pala Band of Mission Indians||Pala Casino Spa Resort||Pala|
|Pauma Band of Luiseno Mission Indians||Casino Pauma||Pauma Valley|
|Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians||Pechanga Resort & Casino||Temecula|
|Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation||Quechan Casino Resort||Winterhaven|
|Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians||Harrah's Resort Southern California||Valley Center|
|San Manuel Band of Mission Indians||Yaamava' Resort & Casino||Highland|
|San Pasqual Band of Diegueno Mission Indians||Valley View Casino & Hotel||Valley Center|
|Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians||Chumash Casino Resort||Santa Ynez|
|Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians||Soboba Casino||San Jacinto|
|Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation||Sycuan Casino & Resort||El Cajon|
|Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians||Red Earth Casino||Salton Sea Beach|
|Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians||Spotlight 29 Casino||Coachella|
|Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians||Tortoise Rock Casino||Twentynine Palms|
|Viejas Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians||Viejas Casino and Resort||Alpine|
How are Southern California card rooms different from casinos?
When it comes to Southern California casinos, most might first think of large properties like Commerce Casino in Commerce, Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, and Gardens Casino in Hawaiian Gardens. Technically speaking, however, even though those facilities call themselves “casinos,” from a legal standpoint they are not casinos but “card rooms.”
The difference is significant. As discussed above, only Native American tribes that have gambling compacts with the state can operate retail casinos in California. Even so, well before the first tribal casinos in the state opened in 2001, California had a long tradition of “card clubs,” including some world famous ones in Gardena. California continues to license and regulate legal card rooms, although those properties cannot offer casino games like slots or so-called California craps or roulette.
California card rooms mostly feature poker games, although many also offer other card games like blackjack and baccarat. However, even those games are different from what you’ll find in CA casinos, as they are modified so as not to be “house-banked” games such as tribal casinos can offer. While the games still play similarly to the way they play in casinos, you can’t play against the “house” in a California card room.