Without a doubt, the USA’s leader in casino gambling outside of Nevada is California. Ever since the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988, dozens of casinos have been doing business on Native American land throughout the state. The actual number varies, with new outlets opening and old casinos folding fairly regularly, but as of 2017, some 60 casinos are open for business in California. In addition, California is among the world’s most poker-friendly areas, with over 80 card rooms legally licensed to do business in the state.
Population: 39,250,017 (off. 2016 est.)
Area: 163,696 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 18-21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: about 60
• The fortune cookie was first created in San Francisco in the late 1890s.
• Through the early 1800s, as many as 90 distinct Native American languages were spoken in California.
• The full name for L.A. is El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora Reina de los Angeles sobre el Rio Porciuncula.
• Before settling on Sacramento in 1854, four other cities had been selected as the capital in six years: Monterey, San Jose, Vallejo and Benicia.
When California entered into the Union in 1850, lawmakers explicitly provided for the legalization of card rooms around the state. In the throes of the pioneering/settlement experience of the Gold Rush, California lawmakers certainly saw value in regulation in an area which speculators and the like might easily be pilfered of their earnings in crooked poker games.
Naturally, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 was as crucial to gambling in California as it was in any state with a sizable Native American population, but the other 49 may have the Cabezon people of California to thank. In enacting IGRA, Congress was reacting to a vacuum left by a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians) that States have no regulatory authority over gaming on Indian reservations. That ruling stated that tribes have the right to operate gaming on reservations if states allowed such gaming off-reservation.
California law is also important in another area of gambling, namely internet poker. Up until 2005, when online gambling was essentially made illegal thanks to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act (UIGEA), online poker had gained a massive following in California. Pretty much immediately after the passage of UIGEA, however, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration in tandem with some Native American tribes looked into the feasibility of statewide intranet online poker. Alas, these efforts waned a bit when the Governator left office in 2011, though some interest has been revived as of ’17.
With New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware already experimenting with legal online casino gaming, intranet poker may yet come to California – and as California goes, so we’re told, so goes the U.S. Eventually.
With at least 60 Native American-run casinos in Calfironia, there’s just way too much to delineate in this limited space. Let’s just say that nearly every city of any notable size at all from Adelanto to Woodlake today has at least one casino or cardroom doing business. Even Los Angeles County, which lost the historic Hollywood Park Casino to demolition, sprouted three new spots in the 2010s.
Multiple gaming suppliers do business in California burgs such as Sacramento (with three gaming houses inside city limits), San Diego (two), San Jose (two), Eureka (two) and Merced (two) as well, but the prospective gambler is certainly never far from thousands of square feet of gaming anywhere in the state.
California is a bit of an oddity here, as the Native American-run casinos accept a miminmum age of 18 or 21, depending on the venue. The difference is simple, though you’ll have to check with the casino before visiting if in doubt: If the casino serves alcohol, you’ll have to be 21 to enter. Otherwise, you may play the games at age 18.
Whoo, again, space limitations. Instead, from the annals of California gambling history, we’ll present a trio of cautionary tales. Don’t be like Maureen O’Connor, San Diego’s first-ever female mayor who later embezzled $2 million from a nonprofit organization to cover gambling losses; Emmy Award-winner David Milch, who threw away $100 million in total; or Charlie Sheen, who at his peak was playing (and mostly losing) $200,000 per week on sports betting. (Yeah, like you needed further reminders not to emulate Charlie Sheen.)
As stated above, California enjoys nicely liberal gambling laws. Poker, casino games and horse racing are all legal and are enjoyed throughout the state.
On a scale of trendiness, gambling in California would appear to be trending upward. No roll back to the currently extremely liberal laws seems likely, and only expansion should be considered a future possibility in the state.
Poker players will certainly continue to keep an eye on California legislators’ efforts to re-legalize the game online. While operators of land-based card rooms are certai to resist any such efforts, a study conducted in the early 2000s showed no real loss of revenue experienced by the then-open card rooms in California.
Legalized online casino gaming seems far less likely, unless the Native American folks are given a fair share; tribes across the U.S. have proven hesitant to allow internet-based casinos to do business in their areas throughout the 21st century, and the tribes seem far more powerful in California than in many states.