California’s legal gambling industry spans a broad range of products.
Between the various card rooms and tribal casinos, the race tracks, and the lottery, California offers one of the richest arrays of regulated gambling choices of any state. The state’s tribal gambling industry alone constitutes one of the largest regulated casino markets in the world.
Online gambling is not currently legal in California, but the state has seen numerous proposals recently to regulated and legalize online poker.
The prospects for regulated online poker in California are unclear at this point, despite the fact that land-based poker is incredibly popular in the state. That interest has, to date, failed to provide sufficient support for legalizing online poker in California.
Recent California legal gambling news
Online poker bills in New York and California made headlines this week while the headline makers of the past year attended the American Poker Awards in LA.
Land-based slots environment
There has been gambling in California almost since the territory became a state.
Poker, never illegal under the state’s constitution, has maintained a presence with dedicated cardrooms in various forms since 1850. Indeed, the Commerce Casino, a card room in Los Angeles (well, Commerce), is home to the largest poker room in the world. Up and down the West Coast, the discriminating poker player can find excellent choices.
However, the picture is a bit more limited for slots players. Officially, slot machines are only permitted on tribal lands in California.
Until 2000, there were no Las Vegas-style casinos in the state. However, in that year, voters passed a constitutional amendment – Proposition 1A – which allowed Native American tribes to enter into individual licenses (or compacts) with the state.
As a result, as long as a tribe maintained its side of the bargain with regard to revenue goals, revenue sharing, and services provided to its population, tribes could build and operate full casinos.
Interestingly enough, California does not permit traditional craps or roulette, due to the fact that those games use dice and a ball, respectively. So the tribal casinos have, at least in the case of craps, developed a version wherein the outcome is determined by cards, rather than dice, and is thus legal to operate under the compact.
Native American tribes in California now operate 69 different gambling facilities, and within those casinos, the discriminating slots player will have over 70,000 machines to choose from, along with over 2,000 table games.
Many of these casinos are smaller than resort casinos, with roughly 1,000 machines. However, there are some larger resorts that dot the map – particularly Pechanga Casino Temecula, which is the largest Native American resort in the western United States, and San Manuel, which offers 3,000 slot machines and 144,000 square feet of gaming space to its customers.
Due to the fact that the casinos are spread throughout the state and 30 different counties (irrespective of the card rooms, which are not covered in this description), California gamblers have a wealth of options when it comes to their gaming desires. Below is a list of the largest Native American casinos in California.
Land-based slots options
|Property||Location||Number of Slots|
|Pechanga Resort and Casino||Temecula||4,900|
|San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino||Highland||3,000|
|Thunder Valley Casino||Lincoln||2,800|
|Morongo Casino Resort and Spa||Cabazon||2,408|
|Pala Casino Resort and Spa||Pala||2,250|
|Red Hawk Casino||Placerville||2,100|
|Viejas Casino and Turf Club||Alpine||2,000|
|Barona Resort and Casino||Lakeside||2,000|
Online gambling options
Online gambling in California is a tricky issue. There is a lot of discussion happening at the state level on the topic, but almost all of it is centered on the legalization of poker specifically.
There are two major obstacles to achieving legalization. The first is the Native American lobby, which has a vested interest in staying the only game in the state. The tribes would rather not have to compete with sites that allow players to stay home. Even if online gaming were on the path to legalization in California, the tribal entities would have to have a piece of the action or be given priority to licensure before it could proceed.
The second major obstacle is California’s proximity to Sheldon Adelson and his crusade to keep all Americans from gambling online (while hilariously claiming that he is doing so because he’s concerned about gambling’s effects on children, rather than being concerned about his land-based casinos losing money).
Adelson has poured millions of dollars into the coffers of various legislators throughout the country, including California, to sway their votes toward banning online gambling or blocking any attempts to legalize. Last year, an online poker bill was killed because of late amendments attached to the bill that would punish companies who have scandals in their history (read: PokerStars) by forcing them to wait a certain period before applying for a license.
All in all, it does not appear terribly hopeful that California will have online gambling available for its citizens in the near future. There are simply too many stakeholders who want things to stay like they are – an ironic consequence of having expanded land-based gambling so extensively.
Social casino site options
The social casino options in California are similar most states’ offerings.
Slotomania, Big Fish, Zynga, Doubledown, and all the other big names can be played via Facebook. As far as dedicated, unique-to-California-casinos sites, the only one that popped up was affiliated with Black Oak Casino, a tribal casino in Tuolumne, about eight miles east of Sonora.
California’s relative proximity to Nevada also elevates the value of MyVegas, which is an MGM-owned website that provides real money comps for free online slot play.
Playing consistently on either the Facebook site or its associated phone apps yields loyalty points, which can be converted into discounted or free meals, hotel rooms, and retail items – and incredibly, even real-money free play at various casinos. Almost all of the partners for MyVegas are in Las Vegas, obviously, but most Californians can make the trip with decent ease.
Pechanga Resort and Casino
Pechanga Resort and Casino is the largest Native American casino in the western United States and is fourth in the entire country in terms of slot machines (It’s bested by only WinStar in Oklahoma, and Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.)
Owned and operated by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the casino offers over 200,000 square feet of gaming space to its patrons, who have their choice of almost 5,000 slot machines, 180 table games, a 700-seat bingo parlor, and a 54-table poker room. There are also 10 restaurants, four bars, three lounges, and a respected 18-hole golf course on the grounds.
The property is located in Temecula and opened its doors in 2002. It is in the midst of a $285-million expansion that will more than double its 517 hotel room count, add 70,000 square feet of meeting and retail space, create two new restaurants, and radically redesign the pool and spa areas. Pechanga’s appeal is also aided by its location in Temecula Valley wine country, which adds the possibility of wine touring and sampling.
Pechanga has won numerous accolades, including the AAA’s Four-Diamond Award every year of its existence, most recently in 2016. Of all the casinos in California, Pechanga is the name that keeps popping up as the best option inside state lines.
State legal environment
|Permitted/Offered?||Notes & Restrictions|
|Land-Based Gambling||Yes||Poker allowed statewide, casinos only allowed on tribal lands, roulette and craps disallowed due to use of ball and dice|
|Online Gambling||No||Online poker bill defeated in 2016, prospects not as optimistic as in recent years|
|Lottery||Yes||Participates in both Mega Millions and Powerball multi-state lotteries|
|Charitable or House-Based Gambling||Yes||Bingo only|
|Minimum Gambling Age||18 for lottery, bingo, and pari-mutuel; officially 18 in casinos, although most casinos privately make 21 the minimum age so as to be able to serve alcohol to patrons|