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California Casinos Online and Gambling Laws

California

As the largest state, California is a very important market for gambling operators, both live and online. It’s also a state that has a well-developed gaming industry, with several different factions offering some sort of gaming in the Golden State. It’s a situation that presents plenty of opportunity for online casino sites, though a divide over how it might be implemented has so far prevented regulations from being passed here.

Current Online Climate

At the moment, there are no regulations governing online casinos in California. That doesn’t mean you can’t play, of course: as with most of the United States, this is considered a grey market, which means that while casino sites aren’t exactly welcome, there are also no laws preventing you, as a player, from signing up and playing at any site willing to take your business. Without any state laws imposing penalties against Internet gambling, most gaming companies that generally serve the United States are open to Californians.

While regulation hasn’t come here yet, though, California may be the key to the long-term success of online gambling (and, especially, Internet poker) in the United States. With a population of nearly 39 million, about 12 percent of all Americans live in the state: that’s more than the entire population of Canada, making it an attractive statewide market even without access to the rest of the USA.

But, so far, efforts to pass legislation that would bring regulated web-based gambling to the state have stalled year after year. Gaming interests want it, and plenty of legislators are interested in the revenue potential of such sites. So what’s the hold up?

Right now, it appears as though the most likely bill to pass would be one that would only regulate online poker, rather than all forms of gambling. The biggest problem appears to be a schism in the gaming industry over two key issues.

First, there is a question of who exactly would be allowed to operate such sites. There are three major gaming concerns in the state: Native American tribes, card rooms, and racetracks. While the tribes and card rooms believe only they should be allowed in a regulated market, the racetracks say that they deserve a slice of the pie as well. And while horse racing isn’t the juggernaut it once was, it still holds enough sway in the California legislature to help prevent any bill that doesn’t include them from passing.

Then there is the question of a bad actor clause. If you’re not familiar with the term, such a clause would prevent companies that continued operating in the United States after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act from gaining a license in the state. In practical terms, this one affect only one major company: PokerStars, which is now owned by Amaya.

The entire gaming industry in California is sharply divided on this point. PokerStars itself has set up a strong coalition of tribes and card rooms to oppose such a measure, one that includes the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Commerce, the Bicycle, and the Hawaiian Gardens Casino.

On the other side of the issue are many Indian tribes who do not want to see PokerStars, which they see as a powerful out-of-state competitor, in any regulated state market. These groups, which include the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, have pointed to the “Black Friday” indictments against PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker as a reason why they should not be allowed into the state again.

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Live Options

If you live in California, or just plan to visit, you won’t be shortchanged when it comes to finding gaming venues in the state. There are many dozens of options available to you throughout the state, with the primary options being divided into two categories.

First, there are numerous casinos throughout the state, all of which are run by various Native American tribes on or near their reservations. These run the gamut from large to small, with some being large enough to feel like full-fledged resorts. Some of the largest of these include the Pechanga Resort in Temecula, Thunder Valley in Lincoln, the Viejas Casino in Alpine, and the Morongo Resort in Cabazon.

There are a few quirks you should be aware of when you play table games in the state. While house-banked games card games are permitted, craps and roulette are not – at least not in the versions you’re usually accustomed to. Because state law does not allow dice or wheels to determine the results of these games, cards are typically added to the mix in order to still offer players the same action.

Craps is perhaps the most famous example. Typically, two separate “decks” of six cards each are used to simulate the dice rolls that determine each bet. Sometimes, dice are thrown back into the mix: the cards might be laid out on the table, with the dice determining which cards are flipped and used. While each location uses a different method, the idea of using cards to simulate dice is pretty universal throughout the state.

If you’re just looking for poker, there are also plenty of card rooms spread out across the state, making it one of the best American destinations for serious players. Some of these rooms are quite large, with the most famous ones including Bay 101, Bicycle (known as “The Bike”), Commerce, Garden City, and Hollywood Park.

As you might expect, the focus at these card rooms is on games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha. However, many also offered player-backed versions of blackjack. State law protects the Native American operations by preventing these rooms from offering traditional blackjack, however, so there are usually rule changes, such as a 22 being the best hand possible, and players must pay a commission on each hand.

Future Developments

While online gambling regulation may be dead in California for 2015, we expect it to come up for debate yet again in 2016 – and if it fails to pass into law then, you should once again expect plenty of discussion in 2017, 2018, and beyond. There simply too much money at stake for the issue to go away, and virtually everyone seems behind the idea to some extent; the sticking point remains getting everyone on the same page, behind the same legislation.

PokerStars is certainly stepping up their efforts to get Internet poker allowed in California. In the summer of 2015, they launched Californians for Responsible iPoker, a group dedicated to educating legislators about the issue and rallying support throughout the state. Their biggest effort was a pro tour after the World Series of Poker, in which top pros like Chris Moneymaker, Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Selbst and Jason Somerville visited card rooms across the state to promote the cause.

Several state legislators pushed online poker bills in 2015, including Assemblyman Adam Gray, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, and State Senator Isadore Hall. Of those bills, only Gray’s got any traction, which was limited to passing through the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee. Expect at least a couple of similar bills to surface again in 2016; the prospects of regulations that include all Internet casino games, however, appear to be pretty slim in the near-term.

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