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Online Poker in California? YES, Play Legally 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!



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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 poker online 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.

Sites have taken notice. As of this moment, there are nearly a dozen online poker sites serving US players. Of those sites, almost all 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. 

 

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What Online Poker Sites Can I Play in California?

In order to help you avoid shady and fly-by-night operators, we've taken 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 Logo

IGNITION CASINO
Most Traffic


Ignition is the Cali-friendly internet poker room with the greatest number of games running on average and action sometimes going up to $10/$20. Some of the formats spread include NL Hold'em, LHE, PL Omaha, fast-fold tables, SNGs, Jackpots, and tournaments. Speaking of tournaments, there's a $100K Gtd event every week and regular MTT series that award seven figures in prize money. All play is anonymized at Ignition to protect recreational users from being targeted by sharks.

The poker software here comes in Mac and PC downloadable forms as well as a web client that you can access from your phone or tablet. Get a 100% up to $1,000 poker bonus at Ignition as well as another $1,000 for casino games.

Sportsbetting Logo

SPORTSBETTING.AG
$100K+ Bad Beat Jackpot


Sportsbetting.ag is the third-largest room for Americans with blinds as high as $10/$20 in NL Texas Hold'em cash games. PLO and PLO/8 await you too as does the increasingly popular 6+ Hold'em. SB.ag houses the largest Bad Beat Jackpot currently available to U.S. players – it has occasionally topped $1 million before! SNGs, fast-fold Boost poker, MTTs, and lottery-inspired Windfall poker are also present. Grow your bankroll with weekly leaderboards for sit-n-go and cash games.

You can install Sportsbetting Poker on your Windows or Mac desktop, and there's also an excellent mobile product for iOS and Android. You'll get a 100% up to $1,000 poker bonus on your first deposit, and other promotions apply to the attached sportsbook and casinos.

Logo of Bovada.lv

BOVADA
Three-in-One Gaming


As a partner of Ignition, Bovada has all the same poker games and players as its sister site. What sets Bovada apart, though, it that it lets you bet on sports and horses too within the attached sportsbook and racebook. Even wagers on esports, politics, and television programs are possible in addition to more standard fare, like NFL football, MLB baseball, NCAA college athletics, et cetera.

Bovada is compatible with mobile (iOS, Android, and more) and desktop systems (PC + Mac).The poker bonus is 100% up to $500, and there are casino and sports deals worth up to $3,000 and $250 respectively. BTC users get even larger bonuses.

Intertops Logo

INTERTOPS
Rewarding Promotions


Intertops lacks the bustling lobbies of some of its more-frequented competitors, but where it shines is in the value of its promotional offerings. 36% rakeback is standard, and you'll be able to boost your fortunes even more with the weekly rake races, reload bonuses, overlay tournaments, VIP levels program, and other rewards.

Windows users can install the Intertops Poker download client while those on other hardware can use an Instant Play interface to play through their browsers. The poker welcome bonus is 200% up to $1,000 + 25 free casino spins, and further bonuses await you in two separate casinos and the sportsbook.

Five Dimes Logo

5DIMES
Lowest Rake


5Dimes is the smallest mainstream internet poker room that serves California. Yet, it can be an extremely profitable place to play with its ultra-low rake and fee-free daily tournaments. The cross-over sportsbook and casino traffic, which consists largely of people who are clueless about poker, is another reason to play here.

5Dimes boasts extensive cross-platform support, which works with almost every device out there. Though there's no poker bonus, when you sign up through our link, you'll get 50% rakeback.

ACR Logo

AMERICAS CARDROOM
$10 for Free


Americas Cardroom is where you want to be if you're a tournament player because it has the biggest regular weekly tournament available in the U.S. market: a $215 contest known as the Sunday Special that's worth $150K+ in prizes. The rest of the poker platform is great too, with NLHE, PLO, PLO/8, Stud games, sit-and-goes, Jackpot SNGs, and Six Plus Hold'em present. Look out for the eight-figure MTT series that occur every few months.

Americas Cardroom supports Windows machines, and there's a limited mobile app too. Our ACR bonus code PRB10FREE is good for a $10 no deposit bonus. Upon making your first deposit, you'll get 100% up to $1,000 and another $50 credit.


 

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 poker online, 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" 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?

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
Parker House in San FranciscoThe Parker House, San Francisco Gambling Den, 1849

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.

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 is 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:

IgnitionCasino Logo

1. Ignition Casino - Up to $1,000 Bonus and Weekly Boosts

Bovada Small Logo
2. Bovada Casino - Triple 100% up to $1,000 Bonus ($3,000 in Total)
Logo of Sportsbetting.ag
3. Sportsbetting Casino - Bonuses, Free Spins, Leaderboards, and Challenges

Find out more by reading our rundown of the best online casino destinations for Americans.

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:

Bovada.lv Logo

1. Bovada Sports - 50% bonus up to $250 ($500 Bonus for Bitcoiners)

Sportsbetting Logo
2. Sportsbetting.ag - 50% up to $1,000 Bonus and Never-ending 25% Reloads
Logo of Intertops Sportsbook
3. Intertops Sports - Intertops: Three Bonuses to Choose From

Click here to learn more about the leading USA-friendly sportsbooks.

 

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. Press the “+” to expand each answer, and click on “–” to hide it.

+   Is Online Poker Regulated in California?

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

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

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

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

+   Is PokerStars Legal in California?

+   Is Ignition Casino Legal in California?

+   Is BetOnline Legal in California?

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

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

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

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

+   What's California Lowball?

+   What's San Francisco Poker?

+   What Is “Gardena Jackpots”?

+   Are Home Poker Games Illegal in California?

 


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!

Comments

Global Poker is the biggest SCAM ever! Stay the fuck away from that shitty site! Ive been fighting themm for months to get a measly $300 and they keep comin up with excuses not to pay me!

Dear Awaareness,

We concur! Global Poker should be avoided by not only players in California, but players world wide! We have a pretty extensive review of Global Poker where dozens of players have related similar responses to yours!

It seems intuitive that it is best that CA not regulate poker. Otherwise a chunk of everything will go to the state. Am I right about this? Articles kind of make it out that CA regulating online poker is a win for poker. But I see it differently.

TeePee,

Do you want a job here? We love the way you think!

Yes, regulation means that a ton of money will go to the state. Since money has to come from somewhere, the first place it is cut is from player reward budgets, as you can see in regulated markets like New Jersey and Nevada where the player rewards are anemic at best.

Then of course, the tournament budgets are often cut, because that is an easy place to save money. Where as the offshore sites often lose money on tournaments by allowing overlays, which is essentially a "loss-leader" advertising cost of sorts. FWIW, bit number tournaments bring in recreational players, which feed the sharks, who start all the games.

In any event, we thank you for your comment and we wish more people thought like you do. Let the free market sort it out!

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