California Gambling Laws: A Historical Overview And Prognoses

States’ gambling laws in the United States differ substantially from one another, and new proposals that are put to the vote can frequently change the regulations. There are now 5 main types of gaming in California;

  • Tribal gaming
  • Lottery
  • Horse racing
  • Cardrooms
  • Charitable organizations

At present, online gambling and sports betting remain prohibited in California. However, there are advocates seeking reforms to potentially boost revenue.

Tribal Gaming:

Tribal gaming is permitted in California through Proposition 1A of 2000. Recognized tribes can operate lottery games, slot machines, and certain card games.

Casinos can be established through agreements between tribes, the governor, and approval from the legislature and federal government. There are currently 69 casinos across 27 counties in California, generating approximately $8 billion in revenue. The minimum age for gambling at these casinos is 21 for those with alcohol licenses and 18 for those without.

California State Lottery:

The California State Lottery was approved in 1984, allowing residents to participate in multi-state Mega Millions and Powerball games. Additionally, there are draw games and scratch cards offered by the Lottery Commission. Individuals must be 18 years or older to participate in any Lottery games.

Horse Racing:

Betting on horse racing has been legal in California since 1933, regulated by the California Horse Racing Board. Satellite betting is available at 27 locations in the state since its legalization in 1985. The primary horse racing tracks are Santa Anita, Cal Expo, Los Alamitos, Del Mar, and Golden Gate Fields (which is scheduled to close in December 2023). The minimum age for betting on horse racing in California is 18.


California’s cardrooms allow players to participate in card games against each other, rather than playing against the house. Poker has been legal in the state, with additional regulations implemented in 1984.

The California Gambling Control Commission was established in 1997 to regulate gambling activities. Players must be at least 21 years old to play poker in California.

Gambling By Charitable Organizations:

A constitutional amendment passed in 1976 legalized charitable bingo in California. Nonprofit organizations can host fundraising raffles, bingo games, and one poker night per year. The minimum age for participation is 21 for those with an alcohol license and 18 for those without.

Sports Betting:

Sports betting is currently not legal in California. Two propositions to legalize the market failed in November 2022. If an agreement is reached in 2023, the earliest implementation could be in 2024.

Online Gambling:

Online gambling is not legal in California at this time. However, social casinos operate by rewarding players with tokens that can be redeemed for money or gift cards. Some California gamblers also use offshore online gambling platforms to bet on sportsbooks without facing prosecution.

Final Thoughts On California Gambling Laws:

California’s gambling industry is already highly profitable. Many believe that legalizing online and sports betting could further increase revenues.

The U.S. sports betting industry was valued at $7.56 billion in 2022, and with more states legalizing sports betting, this figure is expected to grow. Despite voting against legalization in 202 2, there may be future attempts to introduce bills offering expanded betting markets in California.

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