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Online Poker in California? Yes You Can Legally Play for Real Money!

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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 law nor California state law prohibit 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 pastime 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 led 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.



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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 California poker 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?

In order to help you avoid shady and fly-by-night operators, we've take a good, hard look at all the legal online poker California sites to present you with only top-notch options. Online gambling in California is exciting enough without your taking any unnecessary chances with your valuable money. We've considered the speed of payouts, multi-device compatibility, traffic numbers, and many other factors when coming up with our shortlist of the best online poker sites for California residents. We are professional poker players and long-time enthusiasts of the game, and below you will find what we consider to be the best online poker sites California has to offer.

 

    Ignition Poker

Ignition's positive features graphic

Ignition Casino's poker room, which is part of the Pai Wang Luo (formerly 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 a pretty fast clip. 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 30% effective rate.

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Ignition's games are plentiful and of the highest quality. According to GameIntel.com, the industry expert on such matters, the 7-day rolling average for cash game players is 1,500 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 10 largest sites in the world, behind the likes of PokerStars, PartyPoker, and 888. Ignition is the largest option available to players in the USA since PS, Party, and 888 closed off their games to US players on 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 satellites 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. There are also Jackpot Sit & Gos, which use a randomized prize pool multiplier to combine the excitement of the lottery with the strategy of poker.

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 casino reload bonuses for CA-based players.

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If you would like to start playing Ignition Poker from the comfort of your own home then you can click the banner above to get the best deposit bonus offer available! If you're not quite convinced yet and want to learn more, we have an extensive review of the Ignition Casino poker site.

 

        Chico Network

Chico's positive features image

The Chico Poker Network, including Sportsbetting.ag, 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 $1,000 deposit bonus and various reload bonuses fairly regularly.

 

Chico Poker Play Now Banner

According to GameIntel.com, the 7-day average is 800 cash game players, making Chico Network the 17th 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 weekly $5,275 SNG leaderboard prizes awarded by Chico. The newest poker offerings at Chico are Boost fast-fold poker and Windfall lottery-style SNGs.

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 $100,000 guarantee that is run on the last Sunday of every calendar month. 

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 payment 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.

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If you think that Chico Poker Network is what you have been looking for in a comprehensive gambling site, then click above to get access to our $1,000 poker deposit bonus offer at Sportsbetting.ag. If you are not quite certain yet, read our exhaustive Sportsbetting.ag Poker review to learn more. If you would like to try a alternative site on the Chico Network, read our review of the BetOnline poker room.

 

    Bovada Poker

Bovada's Beneficial Features

Bovada shares the same PaiWangLuo Network tables as its partner site Ignition, but Bovada may be the better choice if you enjoy multiple forms of gambling. You see, there's a sportsbook, racebook, poker room, and casino at Bovada whereas Ignition doesn't let you bet on sports or the horses. There is a drawback to Bovada, and it is that the poker welcome bonus is only 100% up to $500 as opposed to the $1,000 in free poker bonus funds available at Ignition.

 Bovada Poker Play Now CTA Banner

Users looking for sports-betting action will be pleased for sure with the selection at Bovada. There are U.S. sports leagues covered, like MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAA, and NHL, but you'll also find a broad spectrum of international athletics as well, like tennis, soccer (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, et cetera), golf, and more. With the Live Betting interface, you can place further wagers even after a match has already started: the perfect way to keep the excitement going as the play unfolds on the field. There's a 50% up to $250 bonus for sports that jumps to 50% up to $500 for Bitcoin users.

If you enjoy the ponies, then you'll be happy with the Bovada racebook, which allows you to bet on races at nearly 200 tracks. They're concentrated in the United States, but there are a few tracks listed in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and South Africa too. Straight wagers and exotics are both present.

Even the casino product is more well-rounded at Bovada than at Ignition. In addition to all the titles you'll see at Ignition, Bovada also has a Live Dealer section and casino leaderboards, both of which are missing from its sister site. The Live Dealer area contains Blackjack, Roulette, Baccarat, and Super 6. All live games are operated by a real-life, human dealer, and the gameplay is broadcast to you over the internet. The leaderboards permit you to compete with other betters to score a small prize depending on your results. The casino bonus at Bovada is 100% up to $1,000 (redeemable three times) or 150% up to $1,500 (also redeemable three times) if you deposit bitcoins.

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If you want to bet on sports, casino, and poker from the same account, then follow the link above to join up at Bovada now. For further info before taking the plunge, head over to our Bovada Poker review.

 

    Horizon Network

Horizon's positive features image

The folks over at Intertops have been providing their gambling services to the public at large for more than 30 years, so this firm dates back to before there even was an internet. While it's mostly focused on sportsbetting, it does also feature a robust and feature-rich poker room, which shares traffic on the Horizon Poker Network. Intertops welcomes new poker players with a 200% up to $1,000 bonus and 50 free spins to use in the attached casino.

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The bonus pays out at a rate that's variable but equal to about 27% rakeback for full-ring cash game players. This stacks on top of the 36% dealt rakeback that you'll get as a customer of Professional Rakeback. The 50 free casino spins also grant you extra value. The standard way to play and claim these benefits is through the Windows download client, but there is also an Instant Play web poker platform in case you wish to use a Mac or mobile device.

Going forward, you can anticipate weekly $4,000 rake races that don't require much volume to place in. Raking less than $100 should be enough to put your name on the list of winners, and you can do this in whatever combination of ring games, sit-n-goes, and tournaments you prefer. There's a loyalty program at Intertops that will credit your account with free cash as you complete each tier in the system. Reload bonuses pop up every month or two, and you can give yourself no-deposit bonuses too by simply trading in the gold coins spendable currency that you'll automatically receive while you play.

The most troublesome issue you'll likely face here is finding enough action to maximize all your rewards. You'll be lucky to encounter more than a dozen cash tables running, and few of them will be above the $50nl level. In the tournament lobby, things are a bit better because, besides daily $15 + $1.50 $1,000 Guaranteed Sundowner events, there are many tourneys albeit with smallish prize pools. Intertops does have frequent satellites to live events, and the limited field sizes mean that you might benefit from a considerable overlay.

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Follow the Intertops signup link by clicking the banner above. If you seek to learn more about the poker site before deciding whether or not to join up, then check out our comprehensive Intertops Poker review. If you're interested in trying a different Horizon Network option, read our Juicy Stakes review.

 

        Grand Network

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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.

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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 fee-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 quite a few deposit and withdrawal options. 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.

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To become a member at 5Dimes and get access to their casino, sportbook and poker client, as well as 50%+ average rakeback, use the visit site now button above. To learn more, read our 5Dimes review.

 

     Winning Network

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Winning Poker Network, which consists of America’s Cardroom, Black Chip Poker, and True Poker, is the second-largest network available to players from California and the 11th-largest network in the world. This set of poker rooms is striving to become the "American PokerStars." According to GameIntel.com, the 7-day average of cash game players exceeds 1000 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 be near the five to six thousand player mark.

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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, limit Omaha hi-lo, 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-rolling 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 spectrum 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 Super 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 2,500 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 70% 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 available on America's Cardroom, we recommend that you stick to other sites on our list. The lines/odds are not so great in the sportsbook and casino, it's best to focus on poker at the WPN. If you are interested in such things, check out our recommend USA sportsbooks and recommended USA online casinos articles.

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If you would like to take advantage of our $1,000 max first deposit offer, $50 in free credits, plus access to 4 new depositor freeroll tourneys, then simply click the banner above. If you want to learn even more about ACR, we have a detailed America's Cardroom review here. We also have reviews of other Winning Poker Network sites such as Black Chip and True Poker. If you want a flat 27% rakeback account instead of a VIP account, read about these WPN rakeback sites.


 

How to Choose the Right California Poker Site

All of the poker rooms we've told you about above are fine destinations for real-money online poker in California, and we can't really say that any one is the best. The most satisfying place to play for you personally will depend largely on your own preferences and the styles of poker you're most comfortable with. We do have a set of considerations that you may wish to keep in mind when making your decision.

☛ If you're looking for the poker sites with the most active tables, then Ignition, Bovada, and WPN have the most games running.


☛ If you want a high rakeback percentage to increase your long-term profitability, then the Grand Network or Intertops may be right for you.


☛ If a remunerative first deposit bonus is your principal concern, then Ignition and Intertops both have $1,000 deals that clear pretty rapidly.


☛ If you're interested in fast-fold poker, then Ignition and Bovada's Zone Poker along with Chico's Boost are available to Californians.


☛ If you'd like to try out mobile poker, then the apps from Chico, Ignition, Bovada, and Grand Poker are all excellent solutions.


☛ If you're eager to compete against soft opposition, then Ignition, Bovada, Chico, and Intertops provide the means to do so.


☛ If large tournament guarantees fill you with excitement, then Winning Network, Ignition, and Bovada give you the chance to score a big payout.

 

Payout Report

Coins and Bills

Players can expect no real difference in the payout times from California than the rest of the states chronicled in our report. Ignition, Bovada, Winning Network, Horizon 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. 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

Individual Pushing a Ball

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 in 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 been 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," meaning 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

Magnifying Glass

California doesn’t have any online poker-specific laws against operators, but they are fairly harsh on illegal gambling as they try to protect their state industry. As we've mentioned, 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 provisions mentioning online poker operators in the myriad 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 likely would change if there were legalized poker in the state, especially if a "bad actor clause" were 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?

Binoculars

This is likely a case of the market being 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, 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.

 

California's Poker History

History Books

California had been occupied by first the Spanish then later the Mexican governments up until the mid-nineteenth century. It was a sleepy backwater, and most of the non-Native population consisted of ranchers and fur traders. Resentment against the Mexican government on the part of American settlers led to several revolts, and the area was transferred to U.S. sovereignty in 1848 in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War.

The California Gold Rush changed the composition of Californian society completely. “Forty-niners” (so called because they began appearing in droves in the year 1849) flooded into the territory with hundreds of thousands of them seeking to secure their fortunes. Not only did they attempt to strike it rich through lucky mining claims, but they also sought to boost their earnings at the gambling tables. California became a state in 1850, and the Gold Rush continued.

Parker House in San Francisco

The Parker House, San Francisco Gambling Den,
December 1849

With enormous sums of precious metal-derived wealth changing hands every day, the area became a magnet for professional gamblers. Formerly, New Orleans was the heart of American real-money gaming, but that distinction was soon taken over by San Francisco. Poker wasn't the most popular betting table game on offer – that honor was held by faro – but five-card gambling did have numerous adherents. Luxurious venues sprang up for wagering pastimes, such as the Parker House where it was rumored that the appropriately named Jack Gamble rented the second floor for $60,000 per year for the purpose of operating games of chance. An observer of this degenerate scene was quoted in the 1852 report of the Association for the Suppression of Gambling:

The gambling saloons of San Francisco are the most splendid in the world…the saloons of London, Havana, New York or New Orleans are far below them in splendor of decoration and magnitude of dealings.

The good times weren't destined to last forever. Toward the latter part of the 1800s, laws were passed banning certain forms of gambling, including "stud-horse poker." A 1911 ruling held that this applied to stud poker, which was somehow deemed to be a game of chance, but not draw poker, which was believed to be a game of skill. Card rooms dealing draw varieties of poker began to spring up throughout the state. However, such facilities were not permitted everywhere because California allows local counties and municipalities great leeway in ordering their own affairs, and some of them opted to ban poker.

Starting in the 1930s and '40s Gardena became a hotspot for card parlors. They weren't allowed to charge a rake so instead charged a fee for occupying a seat in a game for a certain length of time. Restrictions were in place limiting bets to a dollar or two. And, like we mentioned earlier, they were only allowed to spread draw poker, not stud. Still, there was intense demand for the services of these cardrooms, and more up them began to appear in Gardena and the rest of the state.

In the '80s, when Texas Hold'em rose in popularity, some venues decided to start featuring it. However, it wasn't clear whether or not this was considered a type of "stud-horse poker" and thus banned by the ancient statute against this game. There was plenty of legal uncertainty and wrangling about this topic, but in 1990, an appellate court ruled that nobody knew what "stud-horse poker" was anymore because the legislature hadn't bothered to define it and the game was no longer played. Therefore, all types of poker were legal whether they involved stud, draw, community cards or some other dealing mechanism.

In 1980, the Cabazon Band of Native Americans opened up bingo and poker gaming on tribal lands. The Riverside County sheriff shut down these operations, believing them to be contrary to the law. The case wound up in federal court, and the right to conduct tribal gambling was affirmed. This opened up a new avenue for poker playing in California, and there are now plenty of tables to be found in dozens of tribal locations.

 

Poker Timeline of California

California Poker Timeline

Regulation of Online Poker

Regulations

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 most other 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 the 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

Logo of the Commerce Casino

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, 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 types 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 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.

Famous California Poker Players

Shooting Star

As the most populous state, it only stands to reason that California has produced its fair share of notable poker practitioners. This includes people who were born and raised in the Golden State as well as those who relocated from elsewhere and made California their home.

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, from Los Angeles, began playing poker for play money online through IRC chatrooms in the '90s while he was a college student. He then started participating in live tournaments though he continued with his studies and achieved a Ph.D. in computer science in 1999. In 2004, Ferguson became one of the co-founders of the now-closed Full Tilt Poker, and he was implicated in the investigations around fraud associated with this failed poker site. He eventually settled the suit while admitting no wrongdoing.

On the felt, Chris' accomplishments remain untarnished and impressive. His biggest live tournament cash came when he won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2000, picking up $1.5 million in prize money after trouncing T.J. Cloutier heads-up. Another WSOP-related achievement that Ferguson attained was having 17 cashes in a single year (2017): a record he shares with John Racener. Chris has nearly $9 million in brick-and-mortar tournament cashes.

Jerry Yang is another Californian WSOP ME victor, winning the championship in 2007. Originally from Laos, Yang moved to California with his family in the '70s. The Temecula-based Yang began playing poker in 2005, just two years before his epic win, and won his entry into the 2007 Main Event from a $225 live satellite. For his efforts, Jerry collected the top prize of $8,250,000. Yang has kept a low profile since then although he appeared in the news in 2013 when the IRS seized his WSOP bracelet to satisfy a tax lien.

Other prominent poker players from California include Brian Rast of Poway, who has won more than $20 million in live MTTs, J.C. Tran from Sacramento with $12 million in lifetime offline tournament prizes, 2006 ME champ and talent agent Jamie Gold, and Men “The Master” Nguyen.



Online Casinos

There are literally hundreds of California-friendly online casinos out there but most are not worth your time. Professional Rakeback's top 3 picks in this category are:

1. Ignition Casino - $1,000 welcome bonus, reloads, rewards program

 

2. Bovada Casino - Three casino welcome bonuses for $3,000 total ($4,500 with BTC)

 

3. Sportsbetting Casino - Bonuses, free spins, leaderboards, and more!

Online Sportsbooks

There are less sports betting websites for Californians than there are online casino sites, however, there are still dozens of books that offer betting to Cali residents. As was true in the poker and casino categories however, Professional Rakeback would not recommend the overwhelming majority of them to anyone. Our top 3 online sportsbooks are as follows:

1. Bovada Sports - $250 bonus ($500 with BTC) good for sports and races

 

2. Sportsbetting.ag - $1,000 welcome bonus and free bets

 

3. Intertops Sports - Four initial bonuses to select from

 

Parting Words

Though CA has a bustling live poker scene, there are times when you might long for the convenience and speed of California online poker. Fortunately, it's perfectly legal for players, and there are plenty of reputable sites for online poker in California ready and willing to enable you to play the game you love over the internet.

 

 

Do you have an address in a nearby state?

California's Neighboring States

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 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!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

We see a lot of people asking the following questions in forums, on social media, and even in search results. We're going to tackle a few of them in here for those of you who don't have the time or the inclination to read through our extensive reviews above.

Is Online Poker Regulated in California?

No. Despite years of debate and tens of millions of dollars spent on lobbying, California lawmakers have yet to adopt regulations concerning online poker. Without laws on the books regulating or specifically making online poker and gambling illegal, these activities are, by default, completely legal. The states of New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada have passed regulations starting in 2013, however CA is lagging behind. Because of this undefined legal gray area all operators recommended in this article maintain their companies in offshore havens such as Costa Rica, Malta, the Isle of Man, Kahnawake, Curacao, Antigua and Barbuda, et cetera where their businesses are licensed and regulated by local governments instead of by the State of California or the US Federal Government.

Why Is There no Regulated Poker Market in Such a Large State as California?

With almost 40 million residents and a bustling live card game scene, California seems like it should be a shoe-in for legalized internet poker. However, it's exactly these favorable prospects for lucrative revenue generation that are perhaps responsible for the state's failure to pass the necessary legislation. You see, between the tribal casinos, horse racing industry, commercial cardrooms, and major online poker sites, there are enough stakeholders involved that it's difficult to reach a consensus on how to structure any online poker licensure regime. Despite much talk and discussion, none of the myriad proposals over the years have garnered sufficient support from all interested parties to stand a chance of passing into law.

What Were Some of the Previous Attempts to Get Online Poker Legalized in California?

Efforts to legalize online gaming in The Golden State date back to a decade ago. Oddly, one of the first movers in this area was tilt-prone YouTuber Anthony “Tuff Fish” Sandstrom. He started a petition to put the idea of a state-run internet poker site to the voters as a ballot initiative, but he failed to obtain the required 430,000 signatures. The first legislation that aimed to regulate instate online poker was the 2008 California Gambling Control/Intrastate Online Poker Legalization Act (AB 2026), which was introduced by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine. In a harbinger of things to come, it faced opposition from powerful tribal gaming interests and was quickly shelved. Similar endeavors in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 also petered out without really accomplishing much. In February 2016, the Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2016 (AB 2863) was introduced by Adam Gray and Reggie Jones-Sawyer in the Assembly. It sought to placate the racetracks by preventing them from running online sites but paying them up to $57 million a year for this concession. It would have required organizations to pay a $12.5 million license fee and taxes of 10% of the amount of revenue collected. This bill raised high hopes but did not come up for a vote, and although Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer tried again by reintroducing the bill the following year, it again failed to pass.

What About the Santa Ysabel Tribe? Wasn't It Trying to Set up Its Own Online Poker Operation?

The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel indeed had plans of running its own online poker room, hoping perhaps to bypass the slow-moving quagmire of the California Legislature. It opened a free-to-play poker site called PrivateTable.com in 2014, with intentions of eventually enabling playing for actual cash, and it also launched a real money internet bingo hall called Desert Rose Bingo that same year. In 2016, the tribe lost a court case challenging the legality of these enterprises, but it appealed. The case was heard in March 2018, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its verdict. The Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel lost and is thus now prevented from offering real money gambling over the internet.

Is Online Poker Legal In California? - For Real Money?

Yes. Neither California State nor the Federal Government have created any laws that make online poker, or any form of online gambling, illegal to engage in for private citizens. There are laws which make running an online gambling business questionable in the United States, and people, as well as media outlets, often confuse and misinterpret these laws as applying to the regular Joe, but that is completely false.

Is PokerStars Legal in California?

Good news is yes, they are. Bad news is, no, you can not play on PokerStars from California. PokerStars is a publicly traded company and subject to strict regulation. As such, it does not operate in any unregulated gray markets even if it is not technically illegal behavior. You may remember Black Friday when PokerStars was shut down and fined heavily by the Department of Justice. What you probably don't know is that less than a year later, the US DOJ reversed their decision on the Wire Act of 1961 and stated that it only applies to sports betting! This is ironic since The Wire Act was the legal basis for the Black Friday domain seizures and fines in the first place! More to the point, it would be legal for PokerStars to operate here, but they will not until there is strict regulation by California lawmakers. Even then, one of the big hurdles to regulation efforts is that the competition wants to keep PokerStars out of the CA markets with "bad actor" clauses. If they succeed, online poker will be regulated, but PokerStars will have to sit out for up to 5 years as a further Black Friday punishment! If you liked the high rewards on PokerStars, there is a site that has a strikingly similar rewards program called America's Cardroom. You can read more about it here.

Is Ignition Casino Legal in California?

Yes, Ignition Casino is legal in CA. Ignition Casino's parent network, Pai Wang Luo, is a licensed business operator in Hong Kong and relies on Hong Kong laws as well as World Trade Organization bylaws to regulate its business. Residents of this state may participate in these games freely and in safety without fear of breaking the law.

Is BetOnline Legal in California?

Yes, BetOnline is a legal California poker site. BetOnline's parent network, Chico, is a licensed and regulated business in the country of Costa Rica and relies on Costa Rican business law and World Trade Organization bylaws to regulate its business. Residents of CA may freely play at this website without fear of breaking the law.

I heard that Global Poker is legal in California; is this true?

Global Poker has a rather unique interpretation of sweepstakes law to bolster its case that it's legal under California and U.S. law. We're unsure about this line of reasoning. While all the ins and outs of this subject are too convoluted to get into here, we do cover it in our Global Poker review page.

How Old Do I Have to Be to Gamble in California?

At brick and mortar casinos and cardrooms, 21. At online casinos and poker rooms, 18. The reason for the discrepancy is because different sets of laws are in place. Physical casinos and cardrooms such as Commerce Casino are governed by strict state regulations that do not allow anyone under the age of 21 to enter the casino's gaming areas. Online casinos and poker rooms however are not regulated by the state nor even addressed by laws in California, and thus they rely on International laws and World Trade Organization rules to define their operations. As such, the legal Age of Majority is what is used to define the lower bound of entry into an online casino or poker room. The Age of Majority in California is eighteen and thus players are allowed to participate in the games as soon as they turn 18 years of age.

Can I Operate an Online Poker or Gambling Business in California?

No, this is strictly illegal. All online businesses in this industry operate in offshore locations such as Costa Rica, Malta, the Isle of Man, Kahnawake, Curacao, Antigua and Barbuda, etc where their businesses are licensed and regulated by local governments instead of by the State of California or the US Federal Government. Please do not attempt to illegally operate a California poker site, you will likely end up in jail!

How Do I Deposit into and Withdraw from California Online Poker Sites?

We recommend that you use Bitcoin for depositing to California poker sites since it is the fastest and most reliable method for both deposits and withdrawals. Traditional methods such as credit cards, bank wires, and cash transfers are also available. Ewallets such as Skrill, Neteller, and EcoPayz are no longer able to be used in states without concrete regulation, and that includes Cali unfortunately. If you're unfamiliar with bitcoin, read this comprehensive bitcoin gambling setup guide.

What's California Lowball?

California Lowball is a form of poker that's similar to 5 Card Draw, but players vie to make the lowest possible hand rather than the highest. This type of poker is also called A-5 Lowball because aces play low, and straights and flushes aren't considered. Therefore, A-2-3-4-5 is the best possible hand regardless of suits. It's played with a standard 52-card deck, but a single joker is added as a wild card. After the blinds are posted, the player to the left of the big blind commences the action. After the first round of betting, players have the opportunity to exchange any number of cards for new ones. Then a second round of betting takes place after which there's a showdown, and the lowest hand wins. California Lowball was popular in CA cardrooms during the '70s, which is probably why it got its name.

What's San Francisco Poker?

San Francisco is a version of seven card stud. Actually, there are two separate games: High San Francisco and Low San Francisco. The rules for dealing each player's up and down cards as well as the betting sequences are the same as in normal 7 card stud. In High San Francisco, the pot is split at showdown between the highest normal stud hand and the hand containing the highest heart. In Low San Francisco, it's the lowest heart that divides up the pot with the highest poker hand. Aces count only for high for this purpose. You probably won't encounter San Francisco in any public card establishments, but you might find it in home games.

What Is “Gardena Jackpots”?

“Gardena Jackpots,” also called “Jacks to Open” or just “Jackpots,” refers to the set of rules that was commonly in use for Five Card Draw games in Gardena poker clubs during the 30s through 70s. The game was played with a normal deck but with a joker added as a “bug.” The bug was a kind of wild card, but it could only be used to complete flushes and straights; otherwise, it counted as an ace. There were no blinds because the players would ante instead. The predraw action started with the player on the dealer's left, just like normal, but in order to make a bet, one had to have a pair of jacks or better. If nobody had JJ or better, then the hand ended without a winner, and a new hand began. After the initial betting round was over, players exchanged as many cards as they wanted from their five-card hands for new ones. Whoever initiated the betting, or “opened,” might wish to break the hand that qualified for opening. In this case, he or she would save the discarded cards so as to be able to prove later on that the hand did meet the JJ or better opening requirement. After all remaining participants drew their new cards, there followed a second round of betting and then the showdown. In order to win the pot, one had to have at least three of a kind. If nobody had a hand of that strength or greater, then the entire pot was carried over to the next hand.

 

 

 

 


We strive to maintain this information and update it frequently with our research. However, we are not immune to making mistakes or omitting information that you, dear reader, may find of use. If you have any further questions not addressed in this guide or have noted any discrepancies or inaccuracies we urge you to contact us with your questions and concerns so that we may swiftly address them!