What is the Status of Online Gambling in California?

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The so-called “Golden State” of California is renowned as being one of America’s most progressive and liberal jurisdictions throughout history, so it’s something of a surprise that the region has yet to legalise online gambling.

In fact, it’s not even particularly close to legalising online gambling in California, with the data garnered from online-gambling.com reaffirming this.

In this post, we’ll explore the full status of online gambling in California across several verticals, before asking what the legislative future holds in the state?

What’s the Status of iGaming in California?

 Let’s start with a basic assertion; as online gambling in California is currently classed as being illegal.

To this end, the state actively prohibits online poker, remote sportsbooks and virtual casino gameplay, and while some exemptions exist (we’ll touch more on this a little later in the piece), these often exist as a result of accident rather than design.

The same cannot be said for offline gambling, of course, with California considered to be something of a bettor’s paradise due to its selection of lotteries, Native American casinos and brick-and-mortar card houses.

In the case of poker, for example, this has remained legal ever since the California Penal Code was enacted in 1872. Although this prohibited several casino games and verticals at the time (including house-banked games), it did not outlaw games that saw players compete directly with one another.

So, there remain dozens of licensed cardrooms in the state, which are home to various poker iterations and other, skill-based table games.

It was in 1987 that the US Supreme Court prohibited the Californian state from preventing gambling on its tribal land, as part of the so-called Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. This reinforced the right of tribes to build casinos on their land, while providing a jurisdictional framework to govern activity.

This launched the beginning of the casino era in California, with 76 Indian gaming establishments currently active and generating cumulative revenues of $9 billion annually. This presence makes California the nation’s largest Indian gaming state, and one that’s highly generative and incredibly popular.

When you also consider the prevalence of offline lotteries in the state, the scope and vibrancy of this market cuts a stark contrast with California’s virtually non-existent iGaming space.

Online casinos and poker rooms are completely illegal in the state, for example, while remote sports betting is also prohibited at a local level. This has been the case since 1992, when the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) prohibited all forms of sports betting at a federal level and closed off thisparticular vertical for all players.

While this law has since been overturned in the Supreme Court and more than 20 state authorities have now legalised online and mobile sports betting to one degree or another, California has so far shown absolutely no signs of following suit.

So, What is Legal in CA and What Does the Future Hold?

 From an online perspective, daily fantasy sports betting is your only legal option as a California resident. This allows for de facto wagering across sports such as soccer and American football, creating lucrative short-term markets for operators to target.

Even in this case, however, this isn’t the result of proactive and carefully considered legislation, as daily fantasy betting has yet to be officially legalised in the state.

By the same token, there’s no individual law that prohibits daily fantasy betting, so players are free to wager with the country’s most reputable online sites for the time being.

Interestingly, there hasn’t been an official update on this vertical since 2016, when the California senator Keven de Leon commented that he was “not in a rush” to pass a formal bill in this respect.

There may be further cause for optimism amongst gambing enthusiasts too, as last year saw some California groups and lobbyists organise a process to obtain the necessary documentation that would legalise online gambling in the state.

Additionally, the document stated that betting could be legalised in-person and at 69 commercial casinos in the state, along with four large-scale horse tracks.

While this process was well underway before the coronavirus pandemic, it has subsequently ground to a halt, but March of this year saw the associated institutions returned with their contracts and will look to get these signed in early 2022.

So far, the organisers have obtained 2.1 million signatures in favour of legalising iGaming statewide, and are waiting to see if these signatures are valid. From here, the document could be discussed as a potential bill, raising hopes that the gambling market in California can start to realise its full potential.

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