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Playing Online poker in the State of California

California state imageCali state flag  Can I play online poker in California? The answer is yes! Is it legal to play online poker in California? The answer to this is also yes!

California is the largest state in the Union by population, and it isn't even close.  With 39.5 million people calling themselves citizens of this great state, it is no surprise to learn that the largest amount of player traffic to US-friendly poker sites, emanates from The Golden State.

Unfortunately, California has not managed to pass any state-wide regulation of online poker or any form of online gambling.  It seems that every time a bill comes up for negotiation, the established powers that be go to war and strike it down.  Whether it is politicians angling for more kickbacks, Native American Indian tribes battling amongst themselves for carve-outs, or special interest lobbying by existing poker sites hoping to get "bad actor" clauses passed to keep the competition away, there just doesn't seem to be any consensus.

Fortunately however, online poker is not illegal.  Neither Federal nor California state law prohibits its citizens from partaking in real-money online poker games.  You may have heard of UIGEA, or Black Friday, but those events do not make your favorite past time a crime.  UIGEA was snuck into law on a must-pass Port Authority bill by two Senators on the take from the US Casino Lobby.  The law shook up the scene, but it targeted the banks and credit cards, not private citizens.  Ultimately UIGEA's policies and certain interpretations of The Wire Act of 1960 lead to the ill-fated closure of a number of top poker sites by the US Department of Justice on "Black Friday," April 15th 2011.  However, since then, the DOJ has reversed its negative interpretation of The Wire Act, opening the way for more sites to service the US markets.

Sites have taken notice.  As of this moment, there are nearly a dozen online poker sites serving US players.  Of those sites, five of them have opened up their games to Californians.  Professional Rakeback's staff has combed through them, played on them extensively, and chosen the most reputable, reliable, and fastest paying sites to offer to our customers.  Directly below you will find our overviews of our favorite sites, links to our more full featured reviews, and direct sign up links if you want to get started right away. 

What Online Poker Sites Can I Play in California?

Ignition Poker

Ignition Poker Logo  Ignition Poker, which is part of the Bodog Poker Network is our number one recommended option for players from Cali.  New players can take advantage of a generous deposit bonus of up to $2,000 ($1,000 max for poker, $1,000 max for casino).  These deposit bonuses clear at the fastest rate of any US friendly poker site.  Small depositors will note that their bonus clears at an astounding 100% rakeback equivalent.  For the high rollers taking advantage of the full $1,000 bonus, it will clear at a 33.5% effective rate. 

Ignition's games are plentiful and of the highest quality.  According to Pokerscout.com, the industry expert on such matters, the 7-day rolling average for cash game players 1500 simultaneous players.  If you add in the tournament and sit and go players, the numbers approach 10,000 simultaneous players! That is good enough to put Ignition among the top three largest sites in the world, behind only the goliaths of PokerStars and 888.  Ignition is the largest option available to players in the USA since PS nor 888 have opened up their games to US players since Black Friday.

The cash games start at the micro stakes penny games and go all the way up to high roller games where the buy-in is $2,000.  Popular game offerings include fixed limit and no limit Holdem, pot limit Omaha, fixed limit Omaha hi/lo, and Zone.  Zone is a fast paced form of NLHE where every time you fold a hand, you are immediately dealt a new hand at a new table.  It is possible to play hundreds of hands an hour in this format, making the boredom of waiting for a good hand a thing of the past.  Tournament action is large and diverse as well, with buy-ins of $1 all the way to $540.  The largest regularly scheduled tournament guarantee is the Sunday $100,000 guarantee, a $162 buy-in event that has myriad sattelites allowing players to win their way to a seat for as little as $1.10.  Sit and Go tournament action includes regular and turbo speed games with buy-ins ranging from $1 to $215.

Ignition also has a newly updated casino hosting over 600 different slots and popular pit games that you'd find at your local brick and mortar casino.  A second $1,000 initial casino bonus is offered to players who partake in these games.  On top of that they offer an unlimited amount of $1,000 bitcoin reload bonuses for CA-based players.

If you would like to start playing Ignition Poker from the comfort of your own home then you can follow this link to get the best deposit bonus offer available!

Chico Poker Network

Chico Poker Network  Chico Poker Network, headlined by BetOnline, has seen a fairly meteoric rise in its traffic over the past few years.  This has made the network an intriguing option for many players as they offer good games, a Sit n’ Go leaderboard and many other player-friendly promotions.  While they don’t offer rakeback of any kind, players can take advantage of their player points VIP program as well as a massive $2,5000 deposit bonus and various reload bonuses fairly regularly. 

According to PokerScout.com the 7-day average is 800 cash game players, making Chico Network the 10th largest poker site in the world and the third largest available in California.  This room excels at cash game traffic up to $1,000 buy-ins as well as sit and go tournaments, where there is a large volume of play, especially in the fast and furious hyper speed games.  In fact, high volume SNG players will be happy to learn that they can make extra money in the monthly $25,000 SNG leaderboard prizes awarded by Chico.

Tournament action on Chico is geared more towards low dollar buy-in events ranging from $0.60 to $33 buy-ins.  The schedule caters to the recreational type of player who wants a faster tournament experience as they do not allow re-entry like some other rooms and thus the tournaments don't last as long.  The largest tournament they run is a $50,000 guarantee that is run approximately every 2 months. 

Chico Network also has a very good and active sportsbook, as well as an online casino option for players.  The presence of many sports bettors trying their luck at the poker tables is one reason the games are so easy at this site.  Chico Network pushes their casino and sports book pretty hard, and as such, there are an ever-changing litany of promotions available.  We encourage players to take advantage of the offers, as some have pretty low roll-over requirements, but we caution players as well.  If a player takes a casino or sportsbook bonus, they will not be able to withdraw until that bonus has been cleared or expired, which will be anywhere from 30-90 days depending on the bonus you choose.

All traditional processing methods are offered.  This is one of the few sites that still sends out large bank wires to players in the USA, so high rollers will enjoy playing here and cashing out their big scores with ease.  We recommend bitcoin for deposits and withdrawals however, as the fees are minor and the speed of processing is excellent, with typical payout times being less than 2 business days.

If you think that Chico Poker Network is what you have been looking for in a comprehensive gambling site, then you can get access to our $2,500 deposit bonus offer for either BetOnline or Sportsbetting by signing up now.

Grand Poker Network

Grand Poker Network Logo  Grand Poker Network is the smallest room on our recommended list, but it has a number of strong points.  Firstly, GPN's parent company, 5 dimes, has been around for nearly 20 years taking sports bets world wide and earning itself an A+ rating at virtually every bookie review site.  5Dimes Group is one of the most trusted names in sports betting, and as such, their poker room should be trusted without the fear that may come with other, unproven sites.  While small, the room is still growing, and we offer players 50%+ rakeback when they sign up through Professional Rakeback.

Most of the action at this site is no limit Holdem based, with some small stakes pot limit Omaha running as well.  This is a good site for small stakes players looking to build a bankroll from a small deposit thanks to our large rakeback offer and the soft micro-stakes games that run here. The tournament and sit and go action is lacking unfortunately, though they do offer a unique brand of  buy-in free (you can also rebuy if you bust) $500 guaranteed tournaments that are also good for bankroll building.

California residents will also have access to the world-renowned sports book on 5Dimes.  They take action from virtually anyone, pros and recreational players alike.  They have the best lines of any US sportsbook due to their "reduced juice" business model.  If you like to bet sports, there are some decent arbitrage opportunities when pairing bets at 5Dimes and placing a reciprocal bet at one of our other recommended sites.  A full featured online casino is also available. 

5Dimes makes it exceptionally easy to move money.  They offer more deposit and withdrawal options than any other US-friendly option.  Once again, we still recommend using bitcoin since they often pay out withdrawal requests same day via this method, but if btc isn't your cup of tea, there are almost a dozen other options to choose from.

To become a member at 5Dimes and get access to their casino, sportbook and poker clients, as well as 50%+ rakeback, follow the link provided here.

Winning Poker Network

Winning Poker Network Logo  Winning Poker Network, which consists of America’s Cardroom, Black Chip Poker, PokerHost, and True Poker is the second largest network available to players from California, and the eigth largest network in the world.  Backed by the BetDSI empire, this set of poker rooms is striving to become the "American Pokerstars."  According to PokerScout.com the 7-day average of cash game players exceeds 900 players and peaks with player counts of over 1500.  Tournament players aren't included in those totals due to tracking difficulty, but given the size of their tournament offerings, the likely peak traffic would near the five to six thousand player mark

Winning Poker Network has a full host of games running around the clock and features numerous innovative offerings that aren’t available on other US-friendly networks.  Cash game players will find no limit Holdem, pot limit omaha, fixed limit holdem, and seven card stud running regularly here.  The games start at penny stakes and go all the way up to nosebleed $5,000 max buy-in games.  If you are a high roller poker player, this is where the largest games while residing on US soil are available.  High volume cash players will be happy to know that they will also get a kickback payment from a built in points rake race dubbed "The Beast."  It is funded directly from the rake, no extra rake is taken, so don't fret, it doesn't cost you anything to participate!

The tournament schedule is the largest of any site available to California residents.  A full host of stakes is available with buy-ins going all the way up to $1,050.  There are over half a dozen weekly tournaments with prize pools of $50,000 or more.  Frequent tournament series run and are often capped off by enormous main event guarantees.  For example, the "High Five Series" caps off with a $420,000 guaranteed tournament.  But that is nothing compared to the main event of the Online Poker Series which runs every 3 months.  Its big draw is a $1,000,000 guaranteed no limit Holdem tournament.  WPN is the only US site to run a 7 figure guarantee in the last 6 years.  SNG tournaments are dominated by a format called "Jackpot Poker" which consists of 3 man games in a hyper format that last approximately 5-7 minutes.  The prize pool varies from 2x the buy-in amount all the way up to 2,000 times the buy-in.  The top prize is $100,000. 

Rewards on this site come in the form of the Elite Benefits VIP program.  Players can earn anywhere from 17 to 65% effective rakeback on this program.  That does not include any money earned from The Beast, deposit bonuses, or poker reload bonuses.  This network gives huge rewards to its high volume players.  While there is a sports book and casino, we recommend that you stick to other sites on our list, as the lines/odds are not so great, best to stick to poker on WPN.

If you would like to take advantage of our $1,000 max first deposit offer, then simply sign up at any of these great Winning Poker Network operators, no bonus code necessary since our signup link provides the maximum bonus automatically:  America's Cardroom, Black Chip Poker, PokerHost, True Poker.

Payout Report

Players can expect no real difference in the payout times from California than the rest of the states chronicled in our report.  Ignition, Winning Network, Grand Network and Chico Network all have bitcoin withdrawal options that make payouts exceptionally fast.  More traditional methods such as check, bank draft, bank wire, cash transfer via Western Union and Money Gram, and credit cards are also available for payouts and deposits. Traditional methods are also fast at our recommended sites, but do take longer than the bitcoin option, hence our rather strong recommendation that you utilize the bitcoin crypto-currency. However, we realize many potential players may not be familiar with bitcoin, and thus, we have created this handy Bitcoin Gambling Guide to help catch you up to speed.  Bitcoin deposits are instant, withdrawals typically take 12-72 business hours at the aforementioned sites.  Traditional withdrawal methods like checks tend to take 5-12 business days depending on the site and its withdrawal queue at the time of your payout request.

Individual Online Gamblers

California is a very interesting state when it comes to gambling laws, because there are the state laws that every state has, but then there are also a lot of local laws that can greatly change how gambling is viewed in that specific city or county. Looking at the state laws is going to be easiest though, because trying to dissect the county laws and to give them fair evaluation would be nearly impossible. So this state, more than any other, you will need to make sure you look at local laws for more specifics on how things are treated. It is also important to say though that no one has ever gotten charged with playing online poker, so even the local laws really don’t provide the latitude to prosecute on that end.

The word "Poker" is only mentioned once in California's gambling code, under Penal Code Sec. 337j(e)(1).  This law basically states that it is illegal to run any type of ""controlled game" means any poker or Pai Gow game, and any other game played with cards or tiles, or both, and approved by the Division of Gambling Control."" Fortunately, in Penal Code Sec. 337j(e)(2)(D) we learn that "(games) not prohibited and made unlawful by statute or local ordinance" are just fine.  And (2)(D) states that "Games played with cards in private homes or residences, in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player." are perfectly legal.  Online poker is played privately and you, the player, are the only one with money at stake.  So worry not, private citizens are free to engage in the online games without legal risk.

Online Poker Operators

California doesn’t have an online poker specific laws against operators, but they are fairly harsh on illegal gambling, as they try to protect their state industry. As we mentioned that any game taking a percentage of the pot as rake would fall into the illegal gambling designation. This means that all of the popular online sites would fall into this category pretty easily. However, there are no specific laws mentioning online poker operators in the myriad of laws concerning gambling in the state.  This puts poker into a gray area where there are no laws forbidding it, but no laws making it explicitly legal either.  The operators themselves are taking some risk by entering this market.  However, since virtually all online poker operators are licensed and regulated in other countries, they use International Trade Laws, such as those set forth by the World Trade Organization, as the basis for their legal operation in the Californian and US market.  The WTO has consistently upheld the right of foreign companies to offer their services in the USA, ruling against the US government and fining them repeatedly (look up Antigua and Barbuda's WTO win against the USA for more details). This like would change if there was legalized poker in the state, especially if a "bad actor clause" was implemented, but that is not the case right now, and it seems far from ever happening with the constant bickering on both sides of the aisle politically.

How do Offshore Gambling Sites view California?

This is likely a case of the market is just too large to ignore. While California has some pretty specific laws on what is illegal gambling, online sites have never really considered not offering games to the state. With such a large and affluent population though, this isn’t terribly surprising. As such, all the major sites available to US-based players are also available to those citizens living in California.  With the backing of International Trade Agreements on their side, many offshore companies seem to think that it is a very lucrative and +EV proposition to offer games in this state.  So long as no attorney general in this state indicts any operators, things will continue as they are.  And even if an up and coming AG decides to try to make his mark by taking on the offshore gambling industry, he would likely find a plethora of sites willing to have their day in court in order to remain in this large upscale market.

Regulation of Online Poker

California is a state that has went from hopeful to pessimistic and then back to hopeful again in terms of regulation chances. Overall it seems like that California will eventually legalize online poker as the state is having budget problems and with the population and wealth of the state, it could help alleviate some of those concerns, more so than previous states. The major issue is going to be finding a solution that the Tribes, Casinos and conservative populations can agree on, but there does become a time where there is too much money on the table for everyone to ignore. PokerStars has also been putting money into the state in hopes of getting online poker regulated and securing a spot in the new industry, which they have been unable to do in the first 3 states that offered regulated online poker.

Land Based Gambling

California has a myriad of land based gaming that includes the lottery, tribal casinos and horse tracks. The tribal casinos are some of the largest in the United States and many have partnerships with major gaming giants in the industry, such as Harrahs. As a result, California has become one of the largest havens for gambling in the Western Hampshire and while it isn’t known only for gambling like Las Vegas or Atlantic City, it actually has larger poker rooms than either of those cities.  Commerce Casino for example, is the largest brick and mortar card room in the entire world.

California isn’t just large in terms of poker though as all the type of legalized land-based gambling flourish in the state.  This is great if you enjoy taking a trip to your local casino on the weekends, but the casino lobby is strong here.  And thus, the casino lobby is very slow to adopt measures to regulate any form of online gambling due to their protectionist viewpoints.

If online gambling were to be regulated you can be sure that there will be an arms race to become the biggest and best regulated site, because the chance to get access to the large and affluent population of the state would be too great for anyone to miss out on. New Jersey, one of the few regulated states, with a population less than 1/6th of that of California, has had over a dozen major corporations apply for licensing in their state.  One can only imagine how many companies would flood into Cali markets if they were given a clear path.  In fact, the giants have already started staking claim to different parts of the state via alliances with various American Indian tribes and it’s not hard to see what will happen if and when online gambling gets regulated. If PokerStars can make a return, like they wish to, it will be most interesting to see if the most people flock there, or if another site can come out of the woodwork to overthrow them.  Although, if a bad actor clause is implemented, PokerStars may not get a chance to enter the market for a number of years after regulation.

Do you have an address in a nearby state

If you are lucky enough to have another address in a nearby state, be it your business address, summer home, second apartment, family home, etc, you may have other online poker online poker options available to you.  Here are a list of the states that border California and Professional Rakeback's review on each of them:  Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.  We know many of you may have access to properties in other states however, and if you do, you'll want to take a look at our US Online Poker guide, where you can learn about all 50 states and navigate to our specific state review of any state of your choosing.

If you have found the information in this guide helpful, please consider sharing it with a friend or family member.  Many people are ignorant as to their legal poker options, please help enlighten them!