Is Online Gambling Legal in California?

California is home to some of the most famous people in the world, and with the countless forms of entertainment available in the state, it is indeed an attractive place for different types of people to live in or at least visit. But is California a great place to go to or live in if you’re an online gambler? Before taking a look at the legality of online gambling, let’s have a quick overview of gambling in California in general.

Gambling Laws in California

Gambling in California is generally illegal, as provided in Article IV of the California State Constitution. California state law has no definition of gambling, but through case law, an activity is considered to be gambling if it involves a prize that is awarded through an event of chance in exchange for a consideration.

Although gambling is made illegal by the California State Constitution, there are specific forms of gambling that are permitted. These forms of gambling are either regulated by the State of California itself or by California’s Native American tribes.

California allows the following forms of gambling:

  • Tribal casinos
  • Card rooms
  • Bingo
  • A state-run lottery
  • Horse race wagering

The Gambling Control Act (GCA) is the main legislation concerning gambling. The GCA provides the rules for licensing of gaming entities and provides the law that applies to all state card rooms and for the relations between the state and tribal casinos. Furthermore, the GCA sets out certain restrictions and the enforcement mechanism for disciplinary actions. It also establishes the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC).

As regards tribal casinos, their terms, limitations, and regulations are governed by compacts negotiated between the State of California and with each tribe that runs a casino.

In addition to the GCA, California also has the California Horse Racing Law which governs everything concerning horse racing in the California and the California Penal Code which sets out illegal acts concerning gambling. The California Penal Code classifies the facilitation, sponsoring, running, or operating of an illegal operation as a misdemeanor.

Sports Betting in California

The Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) prohibited sports betting in almost every state, including California, and it was only recently overturned in 2018. However, the legalization of sports betting is still subject to legislation to be passed by each state.

As of this writing, California is yet to pass legislation concerning sports betting. Thus, sportsbooks, both land-based and online, remain illegal.

Status of Online Gambling in California

California state law has no exact definition of online gambling. The law in California does not provide any regulations for online gambling and there is thus no licensing regime for online gambling operators.

There is no timetable as of yet as to when gamblers in California can expect to have fully legal and regulated online gambling. The most recent effort for online gambling legislation came in 2016, when Assembly Bill 2863 which sought to legalize online poker was introduced. Unfortunately, the bill was opposed by the horse racing industry and by California State tribes, and the bill eventually failed and was not taken up in subsequent years. It is still however under active consideration.

Although online gambling is not regulated in California, it is still possible for gamblers in California to access online casinos that are based elsewhere, provided that such casinos accept players from California. This however requires effort from gamblers to find a reliable online casino that can provide them with high-quality service.

Furthermore, online casinos outside California are not regulated by the state, which means that players are not protected and that there is no state-sanctioned mechanism for players to exact accountability should they encounter faulty online casinos. Native tribes have previously made efforts to launch online gambling sites, but the courts did not allow them to do so.

As an exception, gamblers in California can bet on horse racing online. Bettors may wager on the races in land-based tracks through horse racing sites which are similar to traditional online sportsbooks.

Apart from online casinos, gamblers in California may also bet on daily fantasy sports. Though daily fantasy sports are not governed by any legislation, operators argue that it is a skill-based rather than a luck-based activity, which means that fantasy players are not actually gambling and are not violating the law.

Gaming Options Available

California still has a lot of room for progress before it establishes a viable and fully-regulated online gambling industry. However, gamblers still have options at their fingertips such as through the state-sanctioned gambling forms mentioned above, although these forms are usually limited to land-based gambling activities.

As to online gambling, the only legal option that gamblers in California have is by betting on state horse races through online sites. Online poker and online casinos are presently unregulated, though Californians can access some online casinos and crypto casinos which may have no geolocational restrictions.

For a more immersive gambling experience, whether online or land-based, gamblers will have to cross state lines. Fortunately, Nevada is just close to California, and people can enjoy a wider range of gambling experiences out there.

The Future of Online Gambling in California

Efforts are being made for online gambling to be legalized and regulated in California. However, there is no definite schedule that gamblers can rely on, and gamblers will either have to stay patient or get creative to gamble online in California.

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