Legal Gambling Options in California

Legal Gambling Options in California

The office football pool and the friendly weekly game of poker you indulge in might not seem like a big deal to you, but if you’re caught, you could find yourself on the wrong side of California’s legal system.

While gambling is legal in the state, California lawmakers have created some pretty specific rules limiting when and how you can gamble.

Casinos Owned by Native American Tribes are Legal

Like most states, the only casinos that are legally allowed to operate in California are Tribal Casinos that are connected to and managed by a Native American tribe. In most cases, these casinos are modeled after Las Vegas casinos, in addition to offering an assortment of gambling options, they frequently have restaurants, entertainment, and lodging available.

Horse Racing is Okay

One of the preferred forms of legal gambling allowed in California is betting on the horses. Whether it’s Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, or Quarter Horse races, you can spend as much time placing bets as you’d like. The only catch is that the races must be officially sanctioned. You aren’t legally allowed to bet on the barrel races your county fair holds each summer.

Horse racing is the only form of gambling in California where pari-mutuel betting is legal. If you decide to try your hand at pari-mutuel betting while at the races, be aware that both management fees and state taxes are deducted before you’re allowed to collect your winnings.

Card Clubs are Legal

According to the state law, the only type of casinos that can legally operate in California are those run by Native American tribes, however, there is one loophole. Card clubs. These clubs represent California’s oldest form of formal gambling. As of 2016, the state had issued 89 licenses even though only 76 belonged to active card clubs.

The California Gambling Control Act which was introduced and passed in 1998 makes these card clubs legal.

To operate a Card Club, the management must:

  • Submit to a highly extensive background check
  • Obey all local ordinances

State law prohibits publicly owned corporations from becoming involved in card clubs.

Card Clubs operate by charging each player a fee before they start playing. Once the game gets started, the players bet against one another. The house doesn’t have a stake in the game.

California Loves the State Lottery

California lawmakers not only permit gambling via state-sanctioned lotteries, they encourage it. The couple dollars you spend on a lottery ticket is a huge moneymaker for the state. Both the MegaMillions and SuperLotto Plus are state lotteries.

Gambling for Charity

Charity organizations are allowed to host gambling functions in order to earn money for their cause. The trick is that they have to be a registered non-profit organization. For the longest time, the only game allowed during the events was bingo but in 2007.

Legislatures voted to increase the types of games charitable organizations were allowed to offer, which is why it’s not common to see poker, raffles, and a few other casino-style games being played at these events.