Legal California sports betting presents an opportunity unlike any other in the United States for sportsbook operators. As the most populous state in the Union and home to a $3 trillion economy that would rank number 5 in the world if it was its own country, California may very well be the Holy Grail for legal online betting in the US.
However, progress has been slow as tribal casino groups, cardrooms, racetracks and lawmakers struggle to compromise on how, exactly, online gaming should be legalized. The legalization of mobile sports betting, online casinos and poker remains a complex and thorny issue.
Current legal online betting options in California consist of daily fantasy sports and horse racing betting.
In-person gambling options include a large number of tribal casinos, horse racing tracks, cardrooms and the state lottery.
Best California Betting Sites
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
The above betting sites are open to customers from California. Each maintains a physical presence in the US, which means they are all subject to both state and federal law.
All eyes are on California as states mull legalizing various forms of online gambling. If California does ever go the way of legalization, and does so intelligently, the state could set the bar for online gaming revenue.
California Sports Betting Outlook
Various pieces of legislation have been introduced, shot down and reintroduced in recent years. Industry observers are cautiously optimistic that California will at some point make a serious move toward sports betting legalization. Here’s why:
- The state already has a pro-gambling culture
- The state already has legal casinos and card rooms
- It is home to many Indian tribes who are experienced in gaming
- California has a spending problem and the potential tax revenues must surely be tempting for state lawmakers
On the other hand, California is a uniquely complicated state for the legalization of sports betting.
Tribal groups across the state have long opposed the legalization of statewide mobile betting, preferring instead to authorize retail sportsbooks only out of fear that online betting would negatively impact casino foot traffic.
Additionally, some of the state’s most powerful tribal gaming groups demand exclusivity or near-exclusivity over Vegas-style gaming and want California cardrooms left out of any future expansion of sports betting.
Animosity has simmered for years between some tribal groups and cardroom operators over cardrooms’ insistence on offering player-dealt variations of traditional casino games. Tribal gaming operators believe the manner in which cardrooms manage their non-poker games, particularly the use of third-party proposition players, infringes on the exclusivity provisions in their tribal-state gaming compacts.
On the other side of the equation are lawmakers and other industry types who are well aware that mobile betting generates the bulk of sports betting revenue in states with both. In New Jersey, for example, mobile betting accounts for roughly 80% of wagering handle.
To further complicate the issue, legalizing sports betting would require an amendment to the state constitution and must be approved by a majority of voters in a referendum, which can only occur during election years.
2020 Sports Betting Legalization Attempt and Failure
The most recent efforts to legalize retail sportsbooks and mobile betting in California exemplify the difficulties the state faces.
SCA 6 introduced by Senator Bill Dodd in 2019 and carried over into 2020 sought to strike a compromise between tribal casinos, racetracks and cardrooms by proposing three specific changes to the CA gaming landscape:
- Allow tribal casinos and racetracks to operate retail sportsbooks and mobile betting platforms
- Allow tribal casinos to offer roulette and dice games such as craps that are currently restricted
- Allow cardrooms to continue offering player-banked card games
As Ryan Butler noted in a news item for BettingUSA, the bill was supported by racetracks, cardrooms and even the state’s professional sports teams but was strongly opposed by tribal gaming operators.
In a May 2020 statement, California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) Chairman James Siva said CNIGA “vehemently” opposes the provision in the bill authorizing cardrooms to continue offering player-banked games.
The statement read in part:
While we appreciate Senator Dodd’s attempt to address sports wagering, we are vehemently opposed to including an expansion of gaming to a segment of the gaming industry that has proved, for decades, to be unwilling to follow the rules and regulations that guarantee a fair and safe gambling environment, and that comply with federal laws designed to stop money laundering.
We urge Senator Dodd to remove the provisions relating to California Cardrooms until that industry exhibits consistent behavior that proves that they are both willing and able to operate within the confines of the laws and regulations that currently exist.
Senator Dodd ended up pulling the bill in June 2020 in the face of strong opposition among tribes, some law enforcement agencies and some cities with ties to tribal casinos.
Meanwhile, California tribes mounted an initiative of their own to get a sports betting measure put on the November 2022 ballot. The tribal proposal would allow retail sportsbooks exclusively at tribal properties if approved by voters.
CA Daily Fantasy Sports
Daily fantasy sports are de facto legal in California.
We say “de facto” because state law does not specifically mention fantasy sports and the state has passed no bills to explicitly legalize DFS, but most major DFS companies operate in California nonetheless.
Major operators such as those listed near the top of this page have operated openly in California and the state has declined to take action against any DFS sites to date.
Lawmakers did introduce AB 1437 in 2015 that sought to establish a regulatory framework for daily fantasy sports. The bill called for a minimum age of 21 for all customers, a licensing process for DFS operators, a requirement that operators keep all customers’ funds in segregated accounts and for fantasy sites to offer self-exclusion programs.
The bill passed three important votes by a total of 101 for and 2 against but failed to make any significant progress beyond that. The failure of that bill to become law has had no real effect in California, however, as all major DFS sites already provide a standard array of consumer protection measures.
Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris was expected to issue a ruling on whether or not fantasy sports constitute illegal gambling under state law, which would have allowed AB 1437 to establish the aforementioned regulations. She moved on to other things without ever issuing a ruling.
Since then, there have been no major efforts to reintroduce legislation pertaining to California fantasy sports. Even so, numerous DFS operators remain active throughout the state. Legalizing DFS in California would basically be a formality at this point.
California Horse Racing Betting
CHRB officials later expanded the rules to authorize online horse racing betting. As of today, in-person and online racing betting are legal in California.
The state is home to five racetracks, more than two dozen off-track betting parlors (OTBs) and multiple advance deposit wagering providers (ADWs) that are all licensed and regulated. California also hosts state and county fairs that hold races at various times throughout the year.
The CHRB oversees all horse racing and wagering throughout the state with its primary missions being to ensure the integrity, viability and safety of the state’s horse racing industry. This is accomplishing by overseeing wagering, breeding, physical safety and the promotion of horse racing.
CA Horse Racing Betting Sites
One other CHRB responsibility includes licensing online betting operators (ADWs) and ensuring they comply with all state regulations.
The CHRB website maintains a full list of licensed ADWS here, but we generally recommend sticking with one of the recommendations found at the top of this page. Each is headquartered or maintains an office in the United States and holds a licensed CA racing betting license.
The California Exposition and State Fair operates a year-round harness racetrack that runs daily at around 5:20 PM.
1600 Exposition Drive
Sacramento, CA 95815
Golden Gate Fields
This track is located in Berkley with races and simulcast events every week.
1100 Eastshore Highway
Berkley, CA 94710
Santa Anita is one of the most widely recognized racetracks in the United States and home to major events such as the Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Handicap and occasionally the Breeder’s Cup.
285 W. Huntington Drive
Arcadia, CA 91007
Del Mar opened in 1937 with a famous race between Seabiscuit and Ligaroti. Seabiscuit barely took the race and became a legend of his own. Today, Del Mar plays host to racing events, concerts, family fun days and more.
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd.
Del Mar, CA 92014
Los Alamitos Race Course is home to daytime thoroughbred racing and nighttime quarter racing. The track is home to some of the largest quarter horse stakes races in the US.
4961 E. Katella Ave.
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
There are 27 off-track betting facilities in California. OTB facilities can be found at fairgrounds, racetracks, specialty OTB shops and casinos. You can see a full list of locations and addresses here.
Greyhound Racing Betting
California is the home of modern greyhound racing betting but never managed to formally legalize the activity. In 1919, the country’s first commercial greyhound track opened in Emeryville despite a lack of any legal framework for greyhound racing. The track was also the first to make use of mechanical lures, which fans generally found more palatable compared to live lures.
California’s first greyhound track was shut down by law enforcement officials after only a short time in operation and that effectively put an end to California’s greyhound industry for good. Initiatives to legalize and regulate greyhound betting were introduced in 1946 and 1976 and both were defeated.
Live greyhound betting remains prohibited in California, but fans of the sport may wager on greyhounds through licensed ADWs that cover greyhound tracks located in other states.
California Online Casinos
CA Penal Code § 330 outlaws all gambling that is not specifically authorized by the state and conducted by licensed operators. Organizers and participants alike who are caught participating in unlawful gambling are punishable by a fine of $100 to $1,000 and/or imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months.
Additional gambling laws and regulations in California specifically state it is illegal to participate in online gambling under current state law. This includes casino games, sports betting, raffles and other forms of charitable gaming.
Although California would potentially be a highly profitable online gambling market, state lawmakers have made no attempts to pass legislation that would authorize online casinos. The odds of legal online casinos coming to California any time soon appear low at this time.
Some informational websites promote “legal” online casinos that accept players from California, but the information provided by such websites does not align with the various statutes that specifically prohibit all forms of unregulated gambling. Any online casinos that do purport to offer internet gambling to CA residents operate contrary to state law and are completely unregulated.
The best alternatives for readers today are to stick with the other, legal and licensed forms of online betting that are already legal in California. Horse racing and daily fantasy sports provide online betting that is regulated, legal and safe.
Online Poker in California
The demand for online poker in California is high, but legalization efforts face many of the same obstacles faced by sports betting. Tribal groups, cardroom operators, lawmakers and other stakeholders all have competing visions of how online poker should be regulated and have so far failed to find a palatable middle ground.
Lawmakers have introduced bills to legalize online poker in California nearly every year since 2007, but every single effort has been derailed somewhere along the process.
The difficulties are unfortunate because California has great potential as an online poker state due to its large population and a pro-poker culture courtesy of the state’s many tribal casinos and poker rooms.
Legalizing online poker in California would be beneficial for the rest of the country as well if the state goes on to join interstate gaming compacts. In that case, operators in California and other states would be permitted to share tables across state lines, thereby increasing liquidity for everyone and giving states with smaller populations a much-needed boost in player numbers.
The only problem is that online poker still looks like a long shot in California. The state’s many attempts to legalize online poker to date have all fizzled relatively early in the lawmaking process owing to conflicting interests among stakeholders with different visions of how online poker should be regulated and who should be given a seat at the table.
AB 2291: Promising Start but Died in Committee
Assembly Bill 2291 was first introduced way back in February 2014 but never made it beyond the committee phase. It was reintroduced in 2015 and 2016, but was still unable to gain the traction it needed to make it far in the legislative process.
The bill sought to legalize online poker only and issue 10-year licenses to operators. The proposed fee for licensing was initially set at $5,000,000, with that fee being used to offset future taxes. Lawmakers bumped that fee up several times until the fee hit a high of $12,500,000 without offsetting taxes.
Early versions of AB 2291 included several clauses that have caused tension between various factions competing for a piece of the poker pie. Most contentious among these is a “bad actor” clause. AB 2291 initially sought to require potential licensees to have at least five years of gaming experience in California. It also required every aspect of an operation, from its employees to its equipment to its bank accounts to be held in state.
In essence, AB 2291 would have prevented all current online poker providers and newer local casinos in California from competing. The wording of the bill very clearly favored a few established California casino groups at the expense of fair competition.
Another problem with AB 2291 was that it would have prohibited California from entering agreements with other states to combine player pools and improve liquidity. In other words, you would only see other Californians at the table no matter how many states legalize poker. To top it all off, the bill would require the state to opt out of any legislation passed at the federal level allowing online poker.
Some progress was made in 2016 with a proposed amendment that would significantly alter the bad actor clause. Previously, the bill would have barred all online poker companies that operated after the passage of the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. Such restrictions would have prohibited established brand such as PokerStars from entering the market.
The last amendment proposes to instead move the cut-off date for the bad actor clause up to the end of 2011. In other words, sites such as PokerStars that operated after the UIGEA but subsequently left the market after the Black Friday indictments in 2011. This would prevent the most egregious violators from entering the market but afford PokerStars a chance to offer online poker legally in California. You can read more about the proposal here.
Looking Back at 2018: The Good and Bad
Lawmakers and tribal groups have been stuck in stalemate for going on four years now. It’s nice to see some progress on this front, but it’s also discouraging to see the outright stubbornness on the part of varying factions. Poker players would be better served by an open and competitive market and player-sharing agreements with other states.
Worse than all that, online poker seems to have taken a step back in 2018. For the first time in more than a decade, no bills seeking to legalize online poker were introduced. Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sayer told Online Poker Report that he’s giving up on online poker legislation for this year because there is simply no progress being made in reaching a compromise between the tribes, local card rooms and other interested parties.
There are some positive things to say about all this. If poker is indeed legalized in California, the potential player pool will much larger than what we’ve seen in other states that have already legalized online poker. Besides the fact that 38 million people call California home, the state has a poker culture already thanks to its many brick-and-mortar card rooms.
California is likely to have fewer problems with geolocation of players due to its sheer size. New Jersey had all kinds of problems verifying players were actually located within the state. This ended up with loads of potential players being unfairly barred from the state-sanctioned sites there. California doesn’t have to contend with congested cities piled up on state borders.
California Lottery Online
The California Lottery does not sell tickets online, by mail or by phone. All tickets and instant win games must be purchased in-person at an authorized retailer.
However, California does have the option to legalize online ticket sales if it wishes. In 2009, New York and Illinoi asked the Department of Justice to clarify its stance on the Wire Act to explain exactly which forms of online gambling are prohibited because officials in both states were considering authorizing online lottery sales.
The DOJ responded in 2011 with an opinion that had far-reaching consequences beyond just the lottery. In its answer, the DOJ state its official interpretation of the Wire Act applies only to sports betting over the internet. This gave all states, including California, the green light to authorize online lottery sales if they wish.
California has not yet taken advantage of the opportunity but the possibility remains, especially in the aftermath of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic that crushed lottery sales across the nation.
California Betting News: