California is “acknowledged to be the poker capital of the USA.”

Poker in California GuideThat’s according to the Santa Monica Mirror, which made its opinion known shortly after two rival efforts to bring sports betting to the state fell short in November 2022.

But unlike sports betting, poker has been near and dear to the hearts of Californians for around 175 years. And while most forms of gambling were made illegal by the state constitution, draw poker was ruled as a game of skill and remains legal — and more than 80 cardrooms across the state are filled with patrons looking to play legal in-person poker. Each cardroom is required to be licensed with the state.

California’s long devotion to poker and its contributions to the game (Pai Gow Poker was invented here, for example) could lead to the creation of one of the world’s largest markets for online poker.

Is Online Poker Legal in California?

There is no real money online poker in California. It could come become available someday, but there are major obstacles to climb.

Lawmakers will need to come to an agreement to allow online poker to move forward. They will also need to agree on which operators would be allowed to launch in the state, and how tribal casinos — and, to a lesser extent, a handful of horse racetracks — would participate in the market.

The issue of tribal casino participation is no small obstacle — according to the American Gaming Association (AGA), there were 87 tribal casinos in California at the end of 2023.

There are also more than 80 cardrooms in California that would need to co-exist with online poker. But considering the overall popularity of poker in the Golden State and how engrained live in-person poker is among players, both in-person and online poker should be able to have a happy co-existence.

Poker in California: Key Facts
📢 StatusCalifornia has more than 80 cardrooms registered with the state. Online poker is likely years away.
📅 Date LegalizedN/A
👥 State Population39 Million (ranks 1st)
⚖️ Regulated ByCardrooms are regulated by the California Gambling Control Commission.
🔞 Legal Age to Gamble21+

California Gambling Laws and Poker

California Gambling Law: What’s Legal

California’s cardrooms are regulated by the California Gambling Control Commission, which was created in 1998 following the passage of the Gambling Control Act (GCA) by lawmakers the year before. Under the GCA, cardroom owners, managers, and employees are required to be licensed by the state. The law also allows licensure of third-party providers of proposition player services.

State law allows for a poker game to be played in a private residence as long as the host does not charge a rake — meaning they would keep part of the pot in exchange for hosting. The host may participate in the game. State law also allows charities and non-profit organizations to hold poker events, but they must adhere to state guidelines for charitable gaming.

There are also video poker terminals in the state’s land-based casinos, but they are Class II machines that more closely resemble bingo than poker.

How Private Cardrooms Have Operated

Poker in California predates statehood in 1850. The region was a backwater until the California Gold Rush (1848-1855) and the arrival of about 300,000 people — prospectors, traders, and everyday settlers. The infusion of wealth from the rush helped create a lively gambling scene. San Francisco soon had opulent gambling halls known the world over.

The gambling heyday ended in 1879, the year amendments to the state constitution were ratified. The changes included a complete ban on gambling. But while five-card stud poker was specifically banned, draw poker was considered a game of skill and was allowed. California AG Ulysses Webb issued an opinion affirming draw poker as legal in 1911.

Cardrooms offering draw poker soon began sprouting up across the state, but some local governments still enacted bans. Nevertheless, the 1911 opinion gave the cardrooms cover to continue to operate.

The cardrooms adopted a model where players would play against each other, not against the house. And instead of charging a rake (or percentage) for hosting a poker event, players would pay a fee to the house on a per-hand or per-hour basis — people would pay to play.

Texas Hold’em became a hugely popular variant in the 1980s, but there was uncertainty over whether the game could be considered a form of stud poker. Clarity came in 1990 when the California First District Court of Appeal ruled in Tibbetts v. Van Kamp that Texas Hold’em is a “separate and distinct” game.

California’s poker rooms have also contributed to the game. In 1985, Sam Torosian, owner of the Bell Card Club in Los Angeles, invented Pai Gow Poker — a variant where players can take turns playing the dealer hand against other players.

Poker in California Today

Where California’s Private Cardrooms are Located

California is the most populous US state and ranks third in area. Fortunately, the state’s private cardrooms are located throughout the state and are within driving distance of most players.

Most of the cardrooms are in the Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco Bay areas. The California Gambling Control Commission, listed 82 active cardrooms as of January 2024. According to the website, Sacramento County has the most cardrooms with 11, while Los Angeles County ranks second with eight cardrooms and San Joaquin County is third with six cardrooms.

Of the 58 counties in California, 32 have cardrooms, and only five counties have four or more cardrooms within their borders. Eleven counties have only one cardroom — El Dorado, Humboldt, Imperial, Madera, Marin, Nevada, Placer, Santa Barbara, Shasta, Sierra, and Ventura.

How Much Collection Fees Typically Cost

State law prohibits California’s private cardrooms from taking a rake (or percentage) of the pot for hosting a poker event. To make money and be in compliance with the law, the cardrooms charge players a collection fee to play.

The fees can be complex, so cardrooms have set collection fee schedules. For example, the Capitol Casino cardroom has a ten-level collection fee schedule for Omaha. Select lines of the schedule are as follows:

Schedule Option Table Limit Blinds Minimum Buy-In Player Fee (number of players)
1 $2-$4 $1-$2 $20 $5 (7-10), $4 (5-6), $3 (4 or less)
2 $3-$6 $2-$3 $30 $5 (7-10), $4 (5-6), $3 (4 or less)
4 $6-$12 $3-$6 $60 $6 (7-10), $4 (5-6), $3 (4 or less)
10 $20-$40 $10-$20 $200 $6 (7-10), $4 (5-6), $3 (4 or less)

In another example, Hawaiian Gardens Casino says all table fees are determined prior to the start of any Texas Hold’em play, with the understanding that no fee may be calculated as a fraction or percentage of wagers made or winnings earned.

Hawaiian Gardens may assess different rates on each hand of Texas Hold’em, but no more than three collection rates can be established at each table. The fees are:

  • Regular table fee — collected for all hands that reach the opening round
  • Designated table fee — collected for all hands that conclude prior to reaching the opening round (in this case, $1 per hand for all limits
  • Jackpot fee, if applicable — collected for all hands that are eligible to win a jackpot prize

California’s cardrooms differ from private poker clubs in Texas in that they do not offer memberships. (In Texas, private poker clubs also charge fees, they also have daily, monthly, annual, and even lifetime memberships available).

Although California cardrooms do not offer memberships, many have reward programs similar to the big casinos in Las Vegas.

Games Available at Private Poker Clubs

California cardrooms have a variety of games on offer. No Limit Hold’em (NLH) is the most popular, but other variants that are commonly found include Crazy 4, Crazy Pineapple, Face Up Pai Gow, Fast Nine, Fortune Pai Gow, Low Ball, Omaha, Omaha High/Low Split, Pan, Pineapple-Hi, Seven Card Stud (including Hi-Lo and Razz), Spread Limit Texas Hold’em, Super Pan 9, and Three Card Poker.

Most tournament action is NLH.

Major Tournament Series Run in California

Tournament action is widely available at California cardrooms. Some have tournaments every day, all day long. Among the largest clubs, the following events are scheduled through the first few months of 2024:

  • February 19: Club Casino: President’s Day NL Poker Tournament ($200 buy-in, $40k guaranteed)
  • January 12-March 3: Commerce Casino: Los Angeles Poker Classic
  • November 1, 2023 — February 29, 2024: Hawaiian Gardens Casino: Gardens Tournaments $50,000 Freeroll
  • February 11: Ocean’s Eleven Casino: The Big Game ($75 buy-in + $20 entry fee, optional $5 staff add-on)

The Biggest Private Cardrooms in California

According to the California Gambling Control Commission, these are the top ten private poker clubs in terms of the number of tables available:

Name City County Tables
Artichoke Joe’s Casino San Bruno San Mateo 51
Club One Casino Fresno Fresno 51
Commerce Casino Commerce Los Angeles 374
Hawaiian Gardens Casino Hawaiian Gardens Los Angeles 374
Hollywood Park Casino Inglewood Los Angeles 75
Hustler Casino Gardena Los Angeles 91
Larry Flynt’s Lucky Lady Casino Gardena Los Angeles 50
Lucky Chances Casino Colma San Mateo 60
Ocean’s Eleven Casino Oceanside San Diego 50
Parkwest Bicycle Casino Bell Gardens Los Angeles 200

A List of Private Cardrooms in California

California is a large state. It has 58 counties, but only 32 have cardrooms. Only five counties have four or more cardrooms within their borders.

According to the California Gambling Control Commission, there were 82 active cardroom licenses as of January 2024. The licensed cardrooms collectively have 2,200 tables. Sacramento County has the most cardrooms with 11, while Los Angeles County ranks second with eight cardrooms and San Joaquin County is third with six cardrooms.

In terms of the number of tables, Los Angeles County has the most by far with 1,207. Only three other counties — Sacramento, San Mateo, and Santa Clara — have more than 100 tables. LA is also home to the five largest cardrooms in the state. The cardroom at the Commerce Casino is the world’s largest.

County (No. of Cardrooms) Cardrooms (No. of Tables) Total Tables
Alameda (4) Livermore Casino (9), Oaks Card Club (40), Palace Poker Casino (13), Parkwest Casino 580 (10) 72
Butte (2) Casino 99 (8), Casino Chico (7) 15
Contra Costa (3) California Club Casino (5), California Grand Casino (19), The Nineteenth Hole (5) 29
El Dorado (1) Blacksheep Casino Company (3) 3
Fresno (2) 500 Club Casino (19), Club One Casino (51) 70
Humboldt (1) North Coast Casino (6) 6
Imperial (1) Tommy’s Casino & Saloon (3) 3
Kern (3) Diamond Jim’s Casino (30), Golden West Casino (45), The Aviator Casino (10) 85
Los Angeles (8) Commerce Casino (374), Crystal Casino (42), Hacienda Casino (1), Hawaiian Gardens Casino (374), Hollywood Park Casino (75), Hustler Casino (91), Larry Flynt’s Lucky Lady Casino (50), Parkwest Bicycle Casino (200) 1,207
Madera (1) La Primavera Pool Hall & Café (2) 2
Marin (1) Club San Rafael (4) 4
Merced (2) Casino Merced (6), Golden Valley Casino (6) 12
Monterey (4) Bankers Casino (11), Marina Club (10), Parkwest Casino Marina (10), Pinnacle Casino (4) 35
Napa (2) Ace & Vine (9), Napa Valley Casino (16) 25
Nevada (1) Towers Casino (8) 8
Placer (1) Racxx (1) 5
Riverside (2) Bruce’s Bar and Casino (2), Lake Elsinore Hotel and Casino (22) 24
Sacramento (11) Capitol Casino (17), Casino Royale (5), Epoch Casino (11), Hotel Del Rio & Casino (4), Lake Bowl Cardroom (6), Limelight Card Room (10), Parkwest Casino Cordova (11), Parkwest Casino Lotus (17), Rogelio’s (4), The Saloon at Stones Gambling Hall (17), The Tavern at Stones Gambling Hall (17) 119
San Diego (2) Ocean’s Eleven Casino (50), Seven Mile Casino (20) 70
San Joaquin (6) Cameo Club (8), Kings Card Club (11), Parkwest Casino Lodi (15), Parkwest Casino Manteca (13), Stars Casino (9), Westlane Card Room (11) 67
San Luis Obispo (4) Central Coast Casino (4), Oceana Cardroom (3), Old Cayucos Tavern (2), Outlaws Card Parlour (5) 14
San Mateo (2) Artichoke Joe’s Casino (51), Lucky Chances Casino (60) 111
Santa Barbara (1) Jalisco Pool Room (4) 4
Santa Clara (3) Bay 101 (49), Casino M8trix (49), Garlic City Club (10) 108
Santa Cruz (2) Oceanview Casino (4), Tres Lounge and Casino (5) 9
Shasta (1) Casino Club (5) 5
Sierra (1) St. Charles Place (1) 1
Sonoma (2) Parkwest Casino Sonoma (18), The River Card Room (7) 25
Stanislaus (3) Empire Sportsmen’s Association (10), Mike’s Card Casino (5), Turlock Poker Room (14) 29
Tulare (2) Sundowner Cardroom (2), The Deuce Lounge & Casino (5) 7
Ventura (1) Player’s Casino (19) 19
Yuba (2) Casino Marysville (3), Golden State Casino (4) 7
Grand Total 2,200

Online Poker in California

The Main Obstacles for Online Poker in California

Online poker is likely to be many years away from becoming a reality in California. Lawmakers, tribal casinos, and the existing private cardrooms will all need to be on board with the idea — a task that has so far proven easier said than done.

To date, lawmakers have introduced 14 online poker bills in the California State Legislature. Many of the proposals envisioned a tax rate of about 10% of gross gaming revenue (GGR). Some bills had no limit on the number of licenses that could be issued. None of the bills made it out of committee.

The cardrooms themselves are also fighting for survival. Last year, Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) introduced SB 549, aka the Tribal Declaratory Relief Act, which would give the state’s tribes legal standing to, under certain conditions, sue California’s cardrooms — that is, if the tribe believes a local cardroom was violating state law and tribal gaming exclusivity by offering a banked card game. Cardroom owners, employees, and players have since come out in force against the bill.

Also consider the California doesn’t have sports betting, and the most recent attempts to get that vertical off the ground in 2022 were an abysmal failure.

Failed Attempts to Legalize Online Poker in California

Bill No.
SB 1485
Up to three operators, taxed at a rate of at least 10% GGR, licenses have 20-year term, tribal casinos and horse racetracks eligible for licensure.
SB 40
Unlimited operators, tax rate and term of license not specified, tribes/tracks eligible.
SB 45
Similar to SB 1485.
SB 1463
Unlimited operators, 10% tax on GGR, licenses have 5-year term, tribes/tracks eligible.
AB 2291
Limit on number of possible licenses not specified, 10-year term, 5% tax on quarterly GGR, tribes/tracks eligible.
SB 678
Unlimited skins for each authorized poker room, licenses have 10-year term, one-time license fee of $10 million, 10% monthly tax on GGR.
SB 1366
Similar to SB 678.
SB 51
Similar to previous legislation, but raises one-time license fee of $15 million.
AB 431
A very short bill that doesn’t specify the number of operators, tax rate, or licensing fees.
SB 278
Another short bill like AB 431.
AB 9
Authorized cardrooms and tribal casinos to offer online poker, but not tracks. No number of operators or tax rate set. Licenses have a one-time license fee of $5 million and a 10-year term.
AB 167
Horseracing associations added to list of potential licensees, along with cardrooms and tribal casinos. Unspecified number of operators and tax rate. Licenses have a 4-year term. Temporary licenses have a 2-year term. Established poker as the “only permissible internet gambling game.”
AB 2863
Cardrooms, tribal casinos, and tracks all eligible. Operators would pay a one-time license deposit of $12.5 million and a 10% tax on quarterly GGR. Licenses would have a 7-year term.
AB 1677
Similar to AB 2863, except tracks excluded. In exchange, 95% of the first $60 million in taxes and fees each fiscal year would go toward the California Horse Racing Internet Poker Account. Tax rates would range from 8.847% to 15%, depending on GGR.

Note: All of the above bills died in committee.

Multi-State Poker in California

If California were to legalize real money online poker in the future, the state would very likely want to join a multi-state gaming compact. Such a compact allows operators to combine their player pools across multiple states, thereby creating shared liquidity which can support larger tournaments and bigger prizes.

Membership in a gaming compact is also considered essential for online poker to succeed in a new market.

Barring any major changes between now and then, that compact would likely be the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA). The compact currently includes five states — Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

MSIGA would be enormous if California joined. The total population of the compact’s current members is just 25.3 million. If the Goden State were to join, the compact would more than double in size to include 64.3 million residents. About 19% of the US population would have access to multi-state poker through MSIGA, under that scenario.

Poker Sites Likely to Launch in California

With about 39 million residents, California is the most populous US state. It is also the most populous US jurisdiction without legal real money online poker.

Adding California to the fold of states where online poker is legal (eight and counting!) would be a huge win for the industry and players alike — and would go a long way toward restoring the harmony that was shattered on April 15, 2011, aka Black Friday, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) cracked down on US online poker.

So, it should go without saying that all four of the major poker operators in the US — BetMGM, PokerStars, WSOP, and Run It Once Poker (which is currently in development) — will want to launch in California.

There are many uncertainties. Atop the list, it’s unclear if California lawmakers would allow PokerStars to return to the state in a regulated capacity, considering it was one of three online platforms targeted by the DOJ on Black Friday (the others were Full Tilt Poker and the Cereus Network, which included the sites Absolute Poker and UltimateBet).

Lawmakers will also need to agree on how online poker would be set up in the Golden State. The tethered system popular in many igaming states — where an operator forms a partnership with a land-based casino — won’t work in California because there are no land-based commercial casinos.

That means one of two scenarios are likely to emerge:

  • Operators would be required to partner with a tribal casino or horse racetrack, or with certain entities like pro sports teams and stadiums. This appears to be the more likely option, considering there are about 70 tribal casinos in the state and previous efforts to legalize online poker included participation by the tribal casinos and racetracks.
  • The state issues standalone licenses to operators.

With California in MSIGA, operators would be presented with a real unicorn — their biggest opportunity to expand in the US since Black Friday. BetMGM and WSOP would both be poised to create four-state networks, while RSI could decide to deploy Run It Once across as many as five states. If PokerStars were allowed return, it could cobble together a three-state network under MSIGA.

Operator Network Plans
PokerStars US Would create a three-state network across CA-MI-NJ.
BetMGM Poker US Once the operator launches online poker in neighboring Nevada, it could create a four-state network that includes CA-MI-NJ-NV. BetMGM still has to combine its MI and NJ player pools — it’s unclear if it plans to do so before, after, or in tandem with a launch in Nevada.
WSOP US Like BetMGM, WSOP could create a four-state network of CA-MI-NJ-NV. WSOP currently has an advantage of being the only operator in Nevada, but it lost access to Delaware at the end of 2023.
Run It Once Poker US A poker platform in development by Rush Street Interactive (RSI). RSI will likely look to establish a three-state network across CA-MI-NJ first before potentially adding Delaware and West Virginia.

Poker in California FAQ

Is poker legal in California?

Yes, dozens of cardrooms operate legally all over the state. Players pay the cardroom either a per-hand or per-hour fee to play. The cardrooms do not take a percentage of the pot (or rake) for hosting a poker event. Private poker games are also allowed at home — but, like cardrooms, the hosts may not collect a rake.

Is online poker legal in California?

California does not currently have online poker, but we expect it will become available in the next few years. Lawmakers will need to come up with a bill to legalize online poker, and any legislation will probably need to include participation by the nearly 70 tribal casinos in the state. There are no commercial casinos in California.

How many private cardrooms are there in California?

The California Gambling Control Commission lists 82 registered cardrooms as of January 2024. Combined, they have 2,200 poker tables available for players. Cardrooms and their employees must register with the state.

Where are the cardrooms located in California?

There are cardrooms all over California, but there are more in the state’s urban areas — specifically, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay area.

How much do cardrooms typically charge players?

Fees vary and are typically based on a schedule. Omaha games can average in the $5-$6 range when there are seven to ten players, but the fee could fall to $4 with fewer players, or $3 for even fewer players still.

What are some of the biggest cardrooms in California?

Some of the most popular cardrooms in California are in Los Angeles. They include Bicycle Hotel, Commerce Casino, Gardens Casino, Hollywood Park Casino, and Hustler Casino. The cardroom at the Commerce Casino is the largest in the world.

When are California’s cardrooms typically open?

Cardrooms are typically open every day, 24/7.

Are there cash games or tournaments in California?

Yes, cardrooms in California offer cash games and tournaments. No Limit Hold’em (NLH) and Omaha are usually offered, but some cardrooms have variants like Crazy 4, Fast Nine, Pai Gow, Pan, Super Pan 9, and Three Card Poker.

How big is the cardroom industry in California?

According to the California Cardroom Alliance, the state’s 80-plus cardrooms employ more than 23,000 people across the state and generate more than $2 billion in economic activity annually.

Can I legally play online poker in CA?

No, online poker is not yet available in California. Legalization is likely many years away and would need support from lawmakers, tribal casinos, and the existing private cardrooms to become a reality.

Can I play PokerStars in California?

PokerStars is one of the world’s most recognized brands for online poker, but it is not available in California. If online poker were legalized, PokerStars would absolutely want to enter the market, considering it’s the most populous US state with 39 million residents.

Can I play WSOP in California?

WSOP is not available in California, but we expect the brand will want to launch in the state if online poker were to become legal. The brand is owned by Caesars, which serves as operator for two tribal casinos in the state — Harrah’s Northern California and Harrah’s Southern California.

Can I play BetMGM Poker in California?

BetMGM Poker is not legal in California, but if online poker is made legal we expect the brand — a 50/50 joint venture between Entain and MGM Resorts International — will want to launch in the state.

Can I play offshore online poker sites instead?

Offshore poker sites are not recommended because they do not offer the same level of consumer protection as legal, regulated sites. Players on offshore sites are at risk of identity theft when they disclose their financial and personal information. Federal officials have warned US citizens not to use offshore sites because they have no legal recourse to collect winnings owed to them.

Information on the dangers of US citizens gambling on illegal offshore sites and how to tell if a poker site is legal is available in this guide on Poker Shield.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VACPG) helpline at 1-888-532-3500