California Sports Betting

States, from the West Coast to the East Coast and everywhere in between, have legalized sports betting, though California still can’t decide what to do.

The problem is that legislators can’t pass any laws to allow sports betting in California until after the matter has been voted on in a referendum.

It appeared as if Californians would voice their support or opposition in November 2020. But a proposal to legalize online and retail sports betting met its demise due to contention from tribes.

Speaking of, a coalition of tribal gaming leaders are seeking an extension from the court in order to amass enough signatures to get their proposal on the 2022 ballot. That bill would legalize retail wagering only, and only on tribal land.

The tide of history is something Californians usually surf. If the state continues this great tradition, sports betting will soon be legal in casinos and online.

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Background to California gambling law

California voters approved the expansion of legalized gambling three times. 

The state lottery was created in 1984, and tribal casino operations became legal after ballot measures in 1998 and 2000

A year later, cardrooms successfully lobbied to expand from only offering poker games.

The state gave them the authority to offer card games, such as blackjack and Pai Gow, with one caveat: Players must act as the bank, not the house. 

There are now approximately 89 cardrooms, according to the California Gaming Control Board (CGCB).

Since 2001, not much progress is visible. 

After the Department of Justice (DOJ) changed its legal opinion in 2001 of the 1961 Wire Act, several states have had the chance to introduce online poker and casino games. NevadaNew Jersey and Delaware jumped quickly on the revenue bandwagon. California didn’t.

Over the last few years, there have been several attempts to get legislation through. As a result of political disputes or the efforts of the cardrooms and tribal gaming lobbyists, progress has stalled.

Tribal conflicts

There are 109 officially recognized tribes in California, and 59 of them operate tribal casinos. Between them, they generate revenues of more than $7 billion a year.

They include casinos, casino-resorts and mini-casinos. Between them, they offer more than 70,000 slot machines and 2,000-plus table games, which is more than any other state in the union.

It was a California tribe that created the concept of tribal casinos. 

In the case between CA and the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians in 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled that tribes can operate casinos outside of state jurisdiction, as so long as the state has not directly prohibited gambling.

Not unnaturally, the tribes are extremely protective of their interests. They generally oppose internet gambling since they think it may reduce the number of visitors to their casinos.

They guard their right to offer casino games in California and take all available measures to prevent the state’s card clubs from expanding into their casino space.

They may be shooting themselves in the foot. Experience elsewhere has shown that internet gambling increases casino visits, especially from the younger demographic the casinos want to attract.

Overall, the tribes want sports betting, but they want it on their terms.

November 2020 ballot measures and other legislative options

Assemblyman Adam Gray, who chairs the Governmental Organization Committee that is responsible for gambling, introduced a sports betting bill and a constitutional amendment for 2017.

Both attempts went nowhere.

Last year, Gray tried again by filing ACA 16 in June. State Sen. Bill Dodd filed the Senate equivalent bill SCA 6, the measure that ultimately fell to the wayside. Meanwhile, 18 tribes that own central casinos put into progress their plans that would limit sports betting to tribal casinos and racetracks.

To get on the ballot, the California Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative needs 997,139 valid signatures verified by June 25. This effort should be easy given the resources the tribes have at their disposal.

That will get their measure on the ballot paper in 2022.

When will California sports betting launch?

The legislative route made it appear as if a bill would reach the 2020 ballot, which, if approved by voters, could have allowed lawmakers to get the gears in motion for a 2021 launch of online and retail sports betting.

While cardrooms approved, tribes very much opposed the measure as they have long fought against cardrooms and their offerings. As such, the bill’s sponsor killed the measure, bringing an end to state-backed hopes.

Now only the tribal plan remains in play.

Gray reckoned that the industry would generate between $250 million and $500 million a year to the state coffers, depending on the final tax rate.

So, in the absence of any decision, we will take a tour of California sports betting. We also share how you will be able to transition from being a sports fan to a sports bettor.

Where will I be able to make legal sports bets in California?

The California Gaming Control Board states that there are 59 tribal casinos and a number of racetracks, creating a large pool of locations where live sports betting could take place.

There is a list of California casinos toward the end of this article.

How old do I have to be to place sports bets in California?

The legal minimum age to gamble in California is 18 years. However, in practice, most casinos set the minimum age limit at 19 or 21 years.

CA law allows casinos, cardrooms and other gambling locations to set their age limit as long as they are at least 18 years. Particularly, where alcohol is for sale, the age is often 21 years.

The same spread of minimum ages will be there for sports betting. If you are planning to visit a casino or cardroom, it is wise to check the minimum age on the website or call customer service.

Future legislation will likely determine the minimum age for mobile sports betting. It may be 21 years or older; though, we will just have to wait and see.

How do I begin sports betting on California sports?

Assuming the tribal ballot proposition passes, you will be able to place sports bets sometime in 2021. To do so, you will have to visit a tribal casino that offers sports betting.

Eighteen tribes are backing the California Legalize Sports Betting on American Indian Lands Initiative, a measure of intent to offer sports betting when it launches.

The tribes backing the initiative and the casinos they operate are:

Tribal NationCasino
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa; Rancho Mirage Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs: Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City
Barona Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino
Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians Konocti Vista Casino
Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians River Rock Casino Resort
Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Graton Resort and Casino
Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria Casino resort under construction since 2018
Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California Twin Pine Casino & Hotel
Morongo Band of Mission IndiansMorongo Casino Resort & Spa
Pechanga Band of Luiseño IndiansPechanga Resort & Casino
Rincon Band of Luiseño IndiansHarrah’s Southern California (in partnership with Caesars Entertainment)
San Manuel Band of Mission Indians San Manuel Casino
Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi-Yokut Tribe Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino
Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission IndiansChumash Casino Resort
Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Red Hawk Casino
Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation Sycuan Casino Resort
Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians Viejas Casino & Resort
Wilton Rancheria Wilton Rancheria Casino & Resort expected to open in late 2020 or early 2021
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Cache Creek Casino Resort

These tribes are likely to launch sports betting in their casinos. Once the bandwagon starts, other tribes will likely join.

If you want to bet on sports in California, you will need to visit one of these tribal casinos or racetracks.

Likely, the usual pattern is for live sports betting to launch first with online betting to follow after regulators are content that all the boxes are checked.

The mechanics of getting started

On visiting a casino, the first thing you should do is register as a customer

This usually takes the form of signing up for the casino VIP scheme. The casino will issue you with a membership card that provides benefits and discounts, depending on how much you spend.

When casinos introduce sports betting, they usually do so by refurbishing an area to provide a dedicated sports betting facility. It will come equipped with banks of large TV screens where you can watch all the action. A restaurant bar and private booths for groups of friends are also standard features.

When you’re ready to start betting, you can do so in myriad ways. Make sure you understand sports betting basics and the type of bet you are placing. If you have any doubts, the casino staff can explain. 

You can typically place a bet in two ways. 

The traditional way is to go to a teller window, pay your money and receive a ticket, which is your record of the bet.

A modern twist is to use a betting kiosk. These come with touch screens that display all the available bet types and games. Select your bet, pay with cash or card, and the kiosk will print out your betting ticket.

Keep your betting ticket safe because you will need it if you win. To collect your winnings, go to the teller window and hand over your ticket.

How do I begin mobile sports betting in California?

Taking a trip to a casino is a great day out. For many Californians, it’s an expensive trip, not worth it if you just want to place a small bet.

Online operators are happy to accept small wagers, which is one of the reasons why they are so popular. The other main advantage is that you can place bets from the comfort of your home, sitting in front of the game with a few drinks and some friends.

When online sports betting arrives, you can set up a sports betting account in a matter of minutes. 

In some jurisdictions, such as Nevada, the law states that you must set up your account in person at a casino. Since California only has tribal casinos, it is unlikely to go this route.

Whenever online sports betting launches in CA, we will provide links to all the various brands together with reviews of each operator

To open your account, follow one of our links and complete the information on the sign-up page.

Personal details will be required to prevent any chance of underage gambling. After you have chosen a screen name and password, you are ready to place your first bets.

If you open your account using a mobile device, you will need to download the appropriate app. After that, the process is the same as signing up from your desktop.

The easiest way to sign up is to use your desktop computer. 

Then when you want to bet using your mobile, you simply enter your login details and your app will automatically take you to your account.

Be sure to check out the new customer offers before deciding which online sportsbook to use.

How do I make a deposit?

Unless there is an introductory offer that gives you a no-deposit free bet, you will need to deposit money into your account before wagering.

The online sports betting operators will offer as many ways as they can to allow customers to make deposits. In some states, the laws even stipulate that operators must accept specific payment methods.

Just like an online bank account, you can always check your deposit from the sports betting client.

When you place a bet, funds are taken from your sportsbook account, and any winnings will credit to it. The operators will provide a complete transaction history on request.

Deposit methods in use in the US

There are several options to deposit funds in other legal sports betting states. They include:

  • Credit and Debit Cards: This is the most popular way to deposit funds. It works like making an online purchase. Sometimes banks refuse to accept gambling transactions, which is why other methods of deposit are available.
  • Prepaid Cards: Most online operators now offer a branded prepaid card. You first transfer money to the card and then use it like your debit card to deposit funds into your account. Much like a loyalty card, a prepaid card often comes with extra benefits.
  • Wire Transfers: For bettors who want to deposit a large sum of money, some books recommend using a bank wire transfer.
  • E-Checks: E-checks are like mini wire transfers and are extremely quick and easy to use.
  • PayPal, Skrill and Neteller: The big-name payment processors are widely accepted at online sports betting sites. Deposits and withdrawals process quickly. A physical card comes with these accounts, so you can use a teller machine to withdraw your funds as cash.
  • Cash: There are two ways to deposit using cash. If you are close to a casino, you can deposit funds into your online account from the partner casino’s accounts cage. Alternatively, the PayNearMe service offers deposits through kiosks at 7-Eleven stores.
  • Check or Money Order: Handwritten checks and money orders are still popular with a few people. Although checks take longer to process than other methods, they are still accepted widely.

How do I withdraw my winnings?

Withdrawals are easiest if you can use the same method you used to make your deposit. 

They are almost instant if using credit or debit cards or payment processing services.

Other withdrawal methods, such as requesting a check, can take a little longer. You may not withdraw money through PayNearMe.

Either way, withdrawals are fast compared to the time needed by offshore sites. Because these are not allowed to use the US banking system, it can take weeks to claim your winnings from an offshore operator.

Easy financial transactions and the security of your account funds are significant reasons to switch from offshore sports betting to the legal market.

Can I use my casino VIP scheme online?

California is almost certainly going to restrict mobile sports betting to casinos already licensed in the state, whether that means racetracks, cardrooms or tribal casinos. 

None of these have the technological know-how to run their own sports betting operations.

To get into the sports betting market, the tribes will partner with the major sports betting providers that will operate online sportsbooks. The operators should be able to use their brands in partnership with the casinos.

Each online sportsbook has a VIP scheme. What happens when a book partners with a brick-and-mortar casino is an excellent opportunity for cross-selling. 

Online operators want casino customers to sign up for accounts, and the casino wants online customers to visit their properties.

The respective VIP programs are one way to make this happen. Savvy operators make VIP schemes compatible so that the points that players earn for online play can be cashed in for discounts and rewards at the partner casino. This way, casino visitor numbers increase, and there is a positive symbiotic relationship in place.

Do I have to be in California to bet online?

If you set up an online sports betting account in California, you can only use it to make bets inside the state boundaries.

Online gambling is regulated at the state level, not the federal level, so California law no longer applies when you leave the state. 

One step across the border and you are no longer legally allowed to wager on your mobile device with a California licensed operator.

Geolocation technology is accurate, so if you try to place a bet, the software will refuse to accept it. Of course, all bets you have made before leaving the state remain legal.

If you have an existing sports betting account, say with an operator licensed in Nevada and the same brand launches in California, you must set up a separate account. You can’t use your Nevada account to play in California and vice versa.

Will the California sports betting odds be competitive?

There is only a small window within which sports betting operators can offer odds that are competitive in the market. 

Any operator too far out of line will find themselves exploited by clever sports bettors or lose customers to their competitors, including offshore sites.

The legal operators must have an offer that is more attractive than the offshore sites; otherwise, they won’t attract enough customers. As a result, the odds available in California will be as competitive as in any other state in the US.

The one caveat to this is that tax rates and license fees should not be so extortionate that operators have to raise their prices. 

The sports betting taxes in Pennsylvania run to 36% of revenues and, so far, odds have not been affected. The rates proposed, so far, in California are either 10% or 20%, well within the affordability range for operators.

What sports can I bet on in California?

Since the California casinos will partner with global sports betting operators, they will have the capacity to offer sports from around the world.

Typically the regulator decides what counts as a sport eligible for betting. Betting on the Oscars may or may not qualify, but being California, that would certainly add an extra frisson to the annual ceremony.

More contentious sports are those involving local teams, especially college sports.

California is likely to make exceptions to ensure there is no betting on high school sports or any sports involving minors where they are the majority participants. 

Esports are also unlikely to be on the agenda, but after that, most sports will qualify.

One restriction (that is as much operator-imposed as a regulatory issue) is that less popular sports are only likely to offer betting on significant events. Cycling and the Tour de France may be one example, or the Olympic Games, where there could be exceptions for the occasion.

What types of sports bets will be available in CA?

The law may specify the types of permitted sports bets, but the regulator will probably have a great deal of latitude. This enables the industry to innovate without being stifled by a law that didn’t anticipate technological change.

Some of the types of bets on offer in California will be:

  • Moneyline: These are wagers on which team or player will win. They are the simplest bets in the bookmaker’s arsenal and the easiest to understand.
  • Spreads: These take moneyline bets a step further. In a spread bet, you don’t bet on the winner of the game; you bet on the difference between the final scores of the two teams involved in the game. The bookmaker decides the most probable outcome, and you bet on whether the team will beat the spread. This happens when they win by more than expected or lose by less.
  • Totals: Which team will win is irrelevant in a totals bet. Here, you are betting on the combined total of both teams’ scores. The bookmaker sets a line; then, you bet that the total score will be above or below the line. That’s why these bets are also called over/under bets.
  • Futures: You can argue that every bet is about a future outcome, but a futures bet takes it further. A futures bet is on something a long way off, such as who will win the NBA championship or which player will score the most home runs in a season.
  • Parlay: These wagers are a great way to get a lot of entertainment and the chance of a big payout from a small initial bet. In a parlay, you select the winners of several games, usually all taking place on the same day. If you get one winner wrong, you lose your stake. The odds of getting five, six or more winners correct are very low, so if you do pull it off, you get a big multiple of your original wager.
  • Round Robin: These bets are a lot more complicated than parlay bets, but work on a similar principle. In essence, a round robin ties together multiple parlay bets. To make this bet, you choose a list of teams and determine how many legs you want in each parlay. Your bets are on every combination of parlays among the list of teams. You don’t have to win every leg of the round robin to win some money. You win when each combination wins regardless of what happens to your other combinations.
  • Teaser: This is just like parlay bets, but the legs of the parlay are only on totals bets or spread bets. The twist is that the bettor can adjust the totals or points spread lines to make a bet easier or harder to win. Of course, the odds then change, so again, big payouts can come from small wagers.

Live betting on CA sports betting apps

Live betting allows you to wager after a game has begun. The data that sports betting operators have now is so good — at least for major events — that they can adjust the odds of bets in response to the action on the field almost instantly.

Sports bettors gain a lot of advantages. If you place a bet on your home team to win, but it looks like they are going to lose, you can now bet on the opposing team to hedge your original bet.

Events during the game are now the subject of betting, such as what the total score will be at the end of the next quarter.

Instead of placing a bet in advance of knowing the final team line-up for a game, you can wait until after it has started, secure in the knowledge that unforeseen injuries haven’t turned the odds against you.

Live betting is rapidly becoming the favorite way to bet. When you have a bunch of friends watching a game together, a few small in-game bets can enhance your enjoyment of the game and give everyone a stake in the outcome.

Offshore operators don’t get access to the same data as the legal sportsbooks, so they are extremely limited in what they can offer in-game. Furthermore, this is another good reason to switch to the legal sector.

Will the cash out early feature be available in CA?

A close relation to in-game betting is the opportunity to cash out a wager early. California’s online operators are sure to offer this feature.

Quite simply, cashing out allows you to take your winnings, or cut your losses before the outcome of the bet is known. 

Of course, the sportsbook charges a fee for the service, but it’s a great way to cash in when a longshot could still be overturned by a Hail Mary pass.

Which sportsbooks will launch in California?

California is such a significant potential sports betting market that every big brand operating in the US will want to take a piece of the action.

There are effectively two types of companies offering sports betting: Ones that provide sports betting to customers under their brand, and those that provide the technology.

The names you will almost certainly see if they can get access to the market will be:

  • 888
  • DraftKings 
  • BetMGM
  • Fox Bet
  • FanDuel
  • William Hill 
  • Kindred
  • PointsBet 
  • Caesars
  • Kambi
  • BetRivers
  • Bet365

All are already active in the US market, and all will try to find a California sports betting partner.

Does California support other forms of online gambling?

Online poker has failed to make it through the California Legislature on several occasions. 

Now that sports betting looks as it will pass, there seems little reason to continue opposing online poker. However, politicians are anything but rational.

In some sports betting states, online casino games are legal, and, in others, they are seen as a liberalization too far. California looks set to stay in the second category.

It makes sense from a revenue and customer protection viewpoint to legalize all common internet gambling games but, politically, the issue is a hot potato.

It is taking a long time to get sports betting up and running; other online gaming will probably have to wait a few more years yet. Online poker probably has the best chance of being included with sports betting, but only if online sports betting is approved first.

Why California needs legal sports betting 

Americans do love to bet on sports. And other Americans do love to try to stop them. The tension between the two sides of the argument came to a head in 1962 with the passage of the Wire Act in 1961 and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 1992.

The first created a federal ban on using telegraphic communications to place sports bets across state lines. The second banned any states from introducing new sports betting legislation if they didn’t already have it in place.

In 2011 the Department of Justice (DOJ) changed its opinion on what the wire act meant, restricting it only to sports betting. The upshot was that states were allowed to introduce online gambling so long as it was not sports betting.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that PASPA was unconstitutional since it contravened states’ rights guaranteed by the 10th Amendment. 

States were free to legalize sports betting, both live and online, so long as it didn’t cross state borders.

New Jersey was the first to take advantage, launching sports betting mere weeks after. Other states have rapidly followed.

The reasons given for this enthusiasm are twofold: consumer protection and increasing state revenue.

When gambling is regulated and legal, the operators must put in place consumer protection measures or lose their license. 

While it may look like legalizing sports betting is the liberalization of gambling, in practice, it is actually a restriction of gambling.

Players can bet in a safe environment and at-risk gamblers can get support. Also, financial protections are in place.

As a legal activity, sports betting is taxable, which could close the vast hole in California’s public finances.

Online sports betting is an essential part of legal sports betting

The two intend to raise revenues and protect consumers; it cannot be done without also legalizing online sports betting.

More than 80% of sports betting is now done online or on mobile devices. If mobile sports betting is not legal, then bettors will continue to place wagers at unlicensed unprotected, unregulated offshore sites.

State revenues will be much lower than desired because the legal system is not capturing much of the market.

Who is the California regulator if I have a problem?

The California Gambling Control Commission regulates gambling in California. Their contact details are:

The California Gambling Control Commission

2399 Gateway Oaks Drive, Suite 220

Sacramento, CA 95833

Opening hours are: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding state holidays

Phone: 916-263-0700

Fax: 916-263-0499

The CGCC home page is

Unusually the CGCC does not give an email address on its “Contact Us” page. This will have to change if it is to be a regulator of online sports betting.

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