California Online Gambling

When it comes to California online gambling, there are a lot of restrictions placed on California residents. In California, online casinos, online sportsbooks, and traditional online poker sites are illegal. But you do have a few options when it comes to online betting.

Namely, the state of California may run special “second chance” promotions on scratchers. You can play online poker for sweepstake entries. You can bet online on horse races. And you can play Daily Fantasy Sports, which is legal in almost all US states.

Beyond that, California residents are limited to brick-and-mortar casinos and sportsbooks or illegal betting websites.

California Online Gambling Options And Restrictions

Here’s a helpful breakdown of what is and isn’t legal in terms of betting online in CA:

Type Of Betting SiteLegality In The State Of California
Sweepstakes casinosLEGAL
Sweepstakes pokerLEGAL
Online horse race bettingLEGAL
Daily Fantasy SportsLEGAL
Online CasinosIllegal
Online sports bettingIllegal (aside from Daily Fantasy Sports)
Online pokerIllegal
Online LotteryIllegal (except for special state-sanctioned circumstances)
Online BingoFree-play only. No real-money games allowed.

Snapshot Of Online Bets On Horse Racing, A Legal Option In CA

When we normally think about online betting, we’re specifically referring to placing a real-money bet for a chance at real-money winnings. And because both Daily Fantasy Sports and sweepstakes sites are legal across the US, we thought we’d highlight one that’s unique to California’s legal online betting market: horse racing.

Brick-and-mortar horse racing in California spans four full-time tracks up and down the state: Santa Anita Park, Del Mar Racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, and Los Alamitos Race Course. You can bet on those races remotely direct with some of the tracks – or from legal horse race betting websites.

See our comprehensive Guide To Online Horse Betting In The US.

Popular Horse Racing Sites In California

The most popular legal horse racing sites include TVG, Xpressbet, TwinSpires, and BetAmerica. Each hosts a wide range of events that span the entire globe. This includes races in Australia and Southeast Asia, on top of all the tracks within the US.

These websites are popular outlets for two simple reasons: traveling to the track isn’t always feasible, and the promotions are worthwhile. The legal horse racing sites available in California offer no-deposit bonuses, risk-free betting, and loyalty programs, just like the traditional sportsbook.

The bets you can place at these horse racing sites are the same as if you visited the track itself. That means you can win small amounts on micro-bets as well as enormous payouts on long-shot bets like the pick-six bet.

A Rundown Of Each Type Of Online Gambling In California

For a state that has the largest Daily Fantasy Sports market in the country, California bettors have limited options beyond that. Here is a rundown of each type of online betting as it pertains to CA residents and visitors:

CA Online Casinos

There is currently no legally licensed online casino available to people located in California. Californians can travel to states with legal online casinos to bet on digital casino games. They can even join and deposit without placing a bet at many American online casinos. But doing both from within the state is currently against the law.

Will online casinos be legalized in California? Not anytime soon. No recent news coverage has identified any online casino legislation in the works. While the federal government no longer restricts states from legalizing online casinos, it’s up to the state to pass the legislation, issue licenses, and regulate operators.

Online Sports Betting In California

The online sportsbook is another betting option currently unavailable to those located in California.

Folks with legal residencies in states where online sports betting is legal (like Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) cannot place a bet in those states unless they’re physically located within state lines. In that same vein, California residents can legally bet in those states as long as they’re located within the borders.

Further, the state of California doesn’t even offer land-based sportsbooks aside from horse race betting at retail race tracks.

However, many people located in California are a close drive from Nevada, where they can place sports bets online and at brick-and-mortar sportsbook locations.

Online Poker In California

Online poker is currently unavailable in California. However, this is one area where legislation is moving forward.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, state legislators scheduled a bill for vote in November 2020. Whereas some states, like Maryland, moved forward on scheduling votes and referendums, California’s legislation is currently stalled.

For the time being, poker players in California are limited to land-based poker tables. But Southern California is largely considered the brick-and-mortar poker capital of the world, as it’s one of the few places in the country to allow poker since the 1930s.

That’s on top of this being one of the richest regions, inviting both international, national, and local high-rollers to some of the most sought-after seats in world poker.

No wonder so many Hollywood celebrities double as professional poker players, including Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, and Jennifer Tilly.

Playing The California Lottery Online

An online lottery is not legally offered in California. Normally, the only online interaction a Californian can have with the lottery is by checking a ticket to see if it’s a winner. You simply download the app and scan the barcode.

Some websites allow you to purchase foreign lottery tickets. But you have to trust that they’ll both buy the ticket for you in-person and pay out any winnings. Even more so than online casinos, we recommend avoiding offshore lottery websites. Imagine if you won a million dollars. What’s to stop them from keeping the money? They have possession of the ticket, and you have zero recourse because the website is unlicensed.

However, California launched a “second chance” promotion for scratch-off tickets in 2019. After a ticket is purchased, you can log in to the California Lottery app and try your luck at another chance to win. Two people won over a million dollars, so keep your eye out for the next time they roll out a promotion like that.

But, in general, you can’t log in to the California Lottery app and buy tickets online. You have to go to a local retailer (the nearest of which is probably around the corner from your home).

Online Bingo In California

Plenty of bingo parlors exist across the state of California. Some even have payouts in the thousands of dollars, but most offer physical prizes.

Online bingo, on the other hand, is not legal in California. You cannot legally purchase digital bingo cards in the hopes of winning real-money prizes that can then be withdrawn. Instead, legal bingo sites are limited to sweepstakes betting.

Thankfully, a simple Google search will identify all the legal bingo events going on in your area.

Online Horse Racing Bets In CA

The only traditional online betting that’s legal online in California is horse racing. You can bet on local, national, and international tracks, from local races in San Diego to races held on the other side of the world.

However, many betting websites that take horse racing bets from folks in CA are illegal and unlicensed, so it’s important to be sure you’re depositing at a legal choice.

It also might be worthwhile to note that horse racing could be nearing its finish line as a practice in California. The activist outcry against what many dub animal cruelty, particularly in a famously progressive state, could make horse racing illegal before the state legalizes online sportsbooks and casinos.

Still, even if horse racing goes the way of greyhound racing and is outlawed in CA, betting on it online will almost certainly remain legal.

Is Daily Fantasy Sports Legal In California?

Yes. Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) is legal in most states because their operators convinced legislators that DFS is skill-based. So, while almost all states have outlawed online casinos, online sportsbooks, and poker sites, DFS is only unavailable in the following states:

  • Hawaii
  • Washington
  • Nevada
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Iowa
  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • Alabama
  • Delaware

In every other state as well as Washington DC, you can legally play DFS at DraftKings, FanDuel, and other operators.

If you’re wondering how sports betting isn’t skill-based but DFS is, that’s a hotly debated topic. If you’re wondering how DFS is more skill-based than poker, no one has a good answer for you. It’s a total mystery.

See our guide to How To Play Daily Fantasy Sports In California.

Sweepstakes Betting Sites In California

Sweepstakes betting sites can legally offer online casino games, Bingo, digital scratch-offs, sportsbooks, and even poker. What’s more, some are able to accept your money.

But you can’t win cash through online sweepstakes games. Instead, winning the different bets earns you points that can be cashed in for prize drawings. It’s sort of an online raffle, except you have to play to win entries to the raffle. Then again, many offer introductory promotions that give you free entries. But ongoing opportunities require playing the different games.

To call sweepstakes betting sites gambling is a massive stretch, even more so than considering DFS “skill-based” but not sportsbooks or poker. Still, you can win cash prizes based on playing blackjack, slots, roulette, and so on. So, while it’s not gambling, it has the feel of an online casino.

Check out our Guide To California Sweepstakes Sites And Online Casinos.

A Very Brief And Somewhat Disappointing History Of Online Gambling In California

Interestingly, gambling is one of the few bipartisan issues in the United States. Republican, Democrat, and Independent politicians can be for or against legalization, political party notwithstanding. This is important to mention because online gambling legislation is a political issue, and California is a historically left-leaning state.

Since states across the country began legalizing online casinos and online sportsbooks, California has been slow to follow. But this isn’t for a lack of demand; rather, it’s a matter of political will. Passing new legislation requires cutting through a mountain of red tape. And the recent push toward legalized online poker in 2020 was stymied by COVID-19.

Effect Of The Wire Act

For decades, the government used the Federal Wire Act of 1961 to restrict all forms of online gambling at the federal level. In September 2011, the US Department of Justice under the Obama administration declared that the Act only applied to sports betting.

In 2018, the Trump Justice Department reversed course. It retracted the 2011 DOJ opinion and declared the Wire Act applied to all forms of online betting. The Fifth Court of Appeals then said the Wire Act only applies to sports betting. Then the Department of Justice filed an intention to appeal that decision. And if you’re confused, welcome to the club.

And that’s where we are at the federal level.

Basically, the history of California’s online gambling is yet to be written. Online poker seems to be the most likely legalization in the near future. And the growing demand for legal online sportsbooks will likely reach a fever pitch across the country, California included.

The Legality Of California’s Brick-And-Mortar Gambling

The most liberal aspect of legal gambling in California compared to other states is the cardroom. These land-based establishments allow poker, blackjack, pai gow, and baccarat but do not permit slots or table games.

Cardrooms also serve food, drinks, and host events, which gives them the feel of a casino. But if you like the digital games or roulette, you’ll have to travel one state over to Nevada. Further, since 1995, the state won’t allow additional cardrooms to open. If a California cardroom goes out of business, the state will not issue a  license for a new cardroom to open in its place.

Another option is to travel to Native American reservation casinos. In California alone, there are over 60 different tribal casinos that span the state.

You can also play the California State Lottery, which is available for purchase and cash-in only within the state borders. However, you can also play Mega Millions and PowerBall, which is available in 45 states, California included.

Quick Facts On CA Gambling

Does the state of California offer casinos?Cardrooms only
How many tribal casinos are in the state?65
How many horse tracks are in California?4
Can you play the lottery in California?Yes
What is the legal gambling age in California?18
Who regulates California gambling?California Gambling Control Commission

How Many Casinos Are Located In California?

Within the California state lines, there are two different types of casinos: tribal casinos and cardrooms. Currently, you can bet at more than 60 full-sized tribal casinos and approximately 90 state-licensed cardrooms. These establishments vary in size dramatically, especially when you compare small cardrooms to enormous casino resorts.

Unlike cardrooms, tribal casinos host every type of casino game. This includes slots, video poker, roulette, and craps. That’s on top of the blackjack and poker the cardrooms offer.

How Has The California Casino Industry Grown?

California’s casino industry took off after the ratification of the Tribal-State Gaming Compacts in 1999. Since then, dozens of casinos opened across the state on reservation land.

Because no new cardrooms can open as of 1995, the only way a new casino can open is if it’s tribal-run or the state passes new legislation. That means, for now, the California casino industry has, by all indications, plateaued. This situation appears to be fluid, though. Currently, the moratorium on new cardroom licenses expires in 2023.

Who Owns California Casinos?

Right now, 61 Native American tribes own all the casinos located within California state lines. The names of the casinos normally do not relate to the name of the tribe.

As for the cardrooms, the ownership is even more varied, but they’re often named after the location. For example, Commerce Casino is located in Commerce, CA, while the Napa Valley Casino is located in Napa.

An Overview Of The California Lottery

“Winning the lottery” isn’t as hard as the term might suggest. Of course, the huge jackpots can hold incredibly small odds. Most people who play the Powerball or the Mega Millions every week for their whole lives never come close to winning the jackpot. But playing the lotto in California is a lot more nuanced than that.

Daily 3 

Two drawings per day, every day. You can select three numbers or let the computer do it for you. One number can win you over $50, while the three numbers in order can pay out a few hundred dollars plus.

Daily 4 

The same as Daily 3, except the prizes are bigger due to the increased difficulty of correctly guessing four in a row.

Daily Derby

This virtual horse racing game allows bettors to guess which “horse” (number) will come in first, second, and third, and the results come in twice per day.

Fantasy 5

The same as Daily 3 and 4, except that the drawing is once per day, and the minimum win on the top prize is $65,000.

SuperLotto Plus 

The California-only version of the MegaMillions. The drawing occurs twice per week. The minimum top prize is $7 million.

Hot Spot

In California, lottery retailers host screens with a Keno game called Hot Spot. The Hot Spot allows you to bet every four minutes from 6 AM to 2 AM every day. Payouts are determined by both the price of the ticket and the amount of correctly guessed numbers.

Nonprofit Casino Nights In California

According to California Gambling Law, a nonprofit can use casino games to raise money in what is commonly known as a “casino night.”

However, 90 percent of gross revenue has to go to a registered charity, individual cash prizes cannot exceed $500, and total prizes can’t exceed $5,000.

You also can’t host any aspect of it online.

Are Raffles Legal In California?

Yes, but raffles have similar laws to that of charity casino nights in that 90 percent of revenue must go toward charity. However, 50/50 raffles at sporting events are also allowed and regulated by the Bureau of Gambling Control.

Online raffles are not legal in most cases. Even charitable online raffles are illegal if any form of marketing is done online. But you can legally advertise an in-person raffle, as well as list all the details of the raffle, such as prizes, rules, and even entry forms, which need to be printed out and completed manually.

Is An Office Pool Legal In California?

Yes. Office pools are legal in California so long as:

  • It’s not done online
  • No one profits off of the pool
  • The total pool money doesn’t exceed $2,500

So, if you and your friends want to hold a pool for events like March Madness or do a Super Bowl board, there’s nothing stopping you if you operate within those rules.

Learn More About California Gambling Laws

California Online Gambling FAQ

Is online gambling from California safe?

No. Not unless you’re betting on horse racing, playing a sweepstakes casino or poker site or going for a second chance through the CA Lottery app. Otherwise, you’re gambling at an illegal betting site.

While it’s not illegal to gamble at an offshore casino, you won’t have any recourse if you’re ripped off. Many Californians still choose to bet at unlicensed sites and receive their winnings without issue. But is it safe? Strictly speaking, it is not.

How do US online casinos know that I’m in California?

In order to ensure the user base is in compliance with local regulations, online sportsbooks and casinos require members to let them know their location. Otherwise, there’s no way of knowing whether the person is inside the state – or even within the country.

Allowing bets from people located outside of the specific state is illegal. Even those who legally reside in states where online casinos or sportsbooks are legal cannot bet if they’re outside of state lines.

Can I be a California resident but play at Nevada online casinos?

Yes. The second you cross the border into Nevada, you can play at any of their licensed betting websites. Many who live close to the border can feasibly drive over state lines, place their sports bets, drive home, then drive back into the state to collect their winnings.

Can CA residents bet online in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, etc.?

Yes. State residency does not matter. All that matters is that you’re located within the state lines. That means you don’t even need to be a United States citizen to legally bet at licensed online casinos. This applies to online casinos in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and other states.

Do I have to pay California state taxes on casino winnings?

Yes. California’s standard income tax applies to any gambling winnings. The only exception is the CA Lottery, wherein the state automatically withholds the 24% tax (30% for non-US citizens or legal residents) if the winnings exceed $600.

So, if you’re a US citizen and win $1,000 on the CA Lottery, you’d receive $760. You would not have to pay any additional taxes.

Do I have to pay federal taxes on casino winnings?

If your net winnings for the year exceeds $5,000, then your gambling winnings are subjected to a flat tax rate of 25%.

It’s important to note that “net winnings” means your winnings subtracted by your losses. If you won $10,000 but lost $5,0001, you would not have to pay federal taxes for gambling.

How are California casinos different from Nevada casinos?

Tribal casinos in California are virtually the same as the casinos you find in Reno or Vegas. The biggest difference is the number of options. If you’re in a more rural part of California, you may be a long drive from the closest tribal casino. If you’re on the Las Vegas Strip, you’re a stone’s throw away from dozens of casinos.

About the Author

Mike Epifani

Mike Epifani (shown here at Caesar's Palace Las Vegas) is a highly experienced online gambling writer who specializes in online casinos and sports betting sites. From the nuances of bonus offers to winning strategies and beyond, his insights have helped countless remote bettors keep more of their money while having fun and staying safe.