Could Online Casinos Be Allowed to Launch in California?

empty road near mountains under blue sky

Caption: Californians currently have to travel to Nevada to play casino games

For around a century, Californians wanting to have a flutter in a casino have had to head east, either driving through the desert or taking a short hop on a plane to neighboring Nevada.

In fact, the small town of Primm in Clark County which sits on the border between the two states has a thriving industry that caters to Californians that want to play casino games. Over the past five decades, casino owners in the town have spent large sums to create unique attractions that draw passing trade in.

In the 1970s, the earliest casino in Primm acquired the Bonnie and Clyde car to do this, then in 1994 Buffalo Bill’s Hotel and Casino built Desperado, a hypercoaster that, at the time, was the world’s tallest roller coaster.

And while these attractions are a fun novelty, they don’thelp resolve the inconvenience Californians experience when they want to play casino games.

Many in the state are hoping that this could change soon and are pushing for the introduction of legislation that would permit online casinos to open in the state. But is this just wishful thinking, or is there a real prospect of Californians playing online blackjack in the near future?


Recently, states right across the country have been passing laws that permit online wagering within their borders. For the most part, this wasn’t possible in the country until mid-2018 when the United States Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a law that forbade sports betting in all but a handful of states.

With this law no longer enforced, states across the country have been legalizing online wagering. Rules vary from state to state, with different betting options available in each territory.

For example, New Jersey, which is an attractive location for establishing an online businesses, has some of the most liberal laws when it comes to iGaming. In addition to sports betting and poker, the state allows its citizens, residents, and visitors to wager on casino games from their computers and smartphones. The state also has relatively low tax rates for companies in the industry, making it an attractive market.

There are also no caps on the number of operators that can launch in New Jersey, unlike elsewhere in the country. This means that players looking to join an online casino site have a lot of choice. This choice is great for consumers as casino operators have to compete hard, leading to huge welcome bonuses and other promotions that new customers can take advantage of.

In contrast, Rhode Island has only permitted a single sportsbook which is controlled by the state’s lottery.

There is, therefore, plenty of precedent for Californian lawmakers to follow. However, this variety also means it’s difficult to know what path the legislature will take if it chooses to legalize betting in the state.

Progress So Far

The paths to legal casino games that each state has taken have all been very different. This, of course, is understandable since each state has its own unique culture, laws, and priorities. For example, New Jersey had already legalized online casinos in 2013 and only added sports betting later. In contrast, many other states have legalized everything in one go.

Some, like Pennsylvania, moved quickly while others, like Connecticut, have taken several years to pass legislation and are still yet to go live.

California is definitely more like Connecticut in this regard. Few expected the state to do anything at all and perhaps never permit iGaming companies. However, in late 2019 it had its first hearing on the matter.

In early 2020, lawmakers began consulting industry experts to get their views on permitting online wagering and to understand what that may look like.

However, the concept hit a setback later in the year when the California Sports Wagering Initiative (#18-0003) which permitted many casino games, didn’t garner enough signatures to be included in the 2020 General Election.

This has changed In recent weeks though, with the state taking its biggest step forward yet. A fresh initiative to host a referendum on the legalization of sports betting secured enough signatures in late May 2021. This means Californians will be asked to have their say on the matter, which would allow most popular table games and introduce a 10% tax on betting revenues.

Caption: A referendum will take place in November 2022

What Happens Next?

The referendum will take place in November 2022, though that will not be the end of the matter, even if the majority choose to vote yes.

Public votes have actually been used in most states where iGaming has been permitted but it’s not enough on its own. Provided the initiative receives enough yes votes in the referendum, lawmakers still have to pass the respective legislation to make it the law.

Therefore, there is little chance of any changes taking place until 2023 at the earliest.

What Does the Proposal Say About Casino Games?

Like the failed 18-0003 initiative, the one that voters will be asked next November contains specific references to casino games. The relevant text is found on page 3, under section 3(b), and reads “permitting tribal governments to offer sports wagering roulette, and games played with dice…” later in the document, it adds that negotiations could also take place to allow card games and slots in the state as well.

Will the Proposal Be Approved?

There is nothing certain at this stage. It is very possible that the proposal could be rejected by Californians next November, in which case, the state would be back to square one with the idea.

For the time being, though, those in California will continue to have to make the journey across state lines to play roulette, blackjack and slots. While this isn’t as convenient as playing from a smartphone, at least there’s a giant roller coaster they can ride while they’re there.

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