California is a poker player’s dream from a live game standpoint with some of the best (and busiest) live poker rooms and casinos in the country. Finding a nice poker room for a cash game or a tournament is usually just a short trip for most Californians.
Major tournament series like the World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker Circuit also have stops in California. Regulated online poker for real money, however, has thus far remained unattainable at a legislative level.
The next best option for online players in California right now is sweepstakes poker sites, such as Global Poker, or a short trip to play some real money online poker in Nevada at WSOP.com. Until legislators get a bill across the finish line for the governor’s signature, traditional legalized online poker remains off the table in CA.
Best California Poker Sites
Latest California online poker news
Online Poker in California
While there aren’t any traditional legal online poker sites yet, there are some options players might check out. The neighboring state of Nevada offers one of the most popular online poker sites in the US.
WSOP.com is the online home of the World Series of Poker and offers online poker in Nevada and New Jersey. The site offers cash games, tournaments, Sit & Go’s and major tournament series.
The WSOP partners with 888poker, which provides software for the poker client and mobile poker app. 888 also offers online poker in New Jersey and Delaware. WSOP.com and 888poker offer the country’s only shared liquidity market between NJ, Nevada, and Delaware.
This makes for bigger player and prize pools than at other legal online poker sites in NJ or poker sites in Pennsylvania. By 2020, the WSOP.com/888 interstate compact was seeing even bigger increases in player pools.
The WSOP even runs some of its circuit events on the platform, offering players a chance to win championship rings. A California player heading to Las Vegas, Reno, the Lake Tahoe area, Carson City, or anywhere else in Nevada has the chance to play on WSOP.com.
Sweepstakes poker is another option for players in California. These sites are licensed under sweepstakes law (similar to McDonald’s Monopoly game, for example) to offer a mix of social gaming and real money online poker. Global Poker is the largest and most trusted of these.
Sweepstakes online poker in California
Sweepstakes poker is a reasonable alternative for Californians who want to get some real money online poker hands in. Global Poker is one of the most popular sweepstakes poker sites and provides a comparable poker experience to a standard online poker site.
Global Poker offers two forms of online poker:
- You can play free games with virtual currency in the form of Gold Coins.
- You can purchase additional Gold Coins to receive an added virtual currency called Sweeps Coins, which lets you play in separate Sweeps Coin ring games, Sit & Go’s, MTTs, and regular live tournament series with major guarantees.
Any Sweeps Coins you win can then be redeemed for real money. And just like any legalized online poker site you can securely purchase Gold Coins, receive your Sweep Coins and cash them out easily online.
Beyond California, Global Poker is available to players in all 50 states and Canada (excluding Quebec). If you’re wondering what its company structure is, Global Poker is owned by VGW Holdings Limited, a publicly traded company incorporated in Australia. Global is also licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority, so players can expect a regulated environment with a fair game and security.
Global Poker offers games in Texas Hold’em, Crazy Pineapple and Omaha.
Online Poker in Nevada
Those looking to play some traditional online poker have WSOP.com Nevada as an option in Nevada. Southern California residents have a four- to five-hour drive to Las Vegas (depending on exact location and traffic). Players hitting Sin City for some fun may also want to battle it out online in popular events like the Online Super Series, which drew record numbers in March 2020.
In Northern California, a weekend trip to Lake Tahoe, Reno, or Carson City could also include some online poker. WSOP.com is available to players anywhere in Nevada.
Getting started is easy. You can create an account from anywhere and also make a deposit from anywhere as well. Sign up only takes a few minutes and you expect to provide:
- Phone number
Making a deposit is also easy and can be accomplished from anywhere. Players depositing at WSOP.com can use any of the following:
- E-check bank payments (ACH transfers)
- PayNearMe, available at thousands of retail outlets
When making that deposit, expect safety and security with legal online operators. Unregulated sites may not have well-known safe deposit methods. US-facing regulated poker sites must follow strict procedures and technical specifications to make sure player information and funds are kept secure.
Operators also make use of sign-up and deposit bonuses and that goes for WSOP.com.
It’s important to note that online operators use geolocation software to determine a player’s location when attempting to play. A player must be physically located within the state to play legally and geolocation software makes sure of that.
Real Money Poker Apps in California
Playing poker on a mobile app has never been more popular. Many players like to take advantage of the convenience and user-friendly environment that real money poker apps provide.
An app can easily be downloaded on your phone or tablet. Poker apps have improved greatly in recent years and now provide easy lobby navigation, simple game play features, and the ability to play more than one event at the same time.
Most tournaments and cash games offered online can also be found on the app. Although it’s possible to play large multi-table tournaments on some apps, smaller events like Sit & Go’s are easier to play on mobile devices.
Sweepstakes site Global Poker doesn’t yet offer an app, but players can make use of its quick play feature. It’s a web-browser based system, meaning you don’t have to download any poker software.
That system also works well in a mobile environment. Mobile players at Global Poker will basically find the same experience they’d find using a laptop or desktop computer.
Real money poker apps can also be downloaded by Californians to be used when in a state that allows online poker. Those states currently include Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Geolocation software is used to confirm that players are within a legal jurisdiction. However, players can still sign up, withdraw funds, and deposit from any location.
Free Poker Online in California
Most real money poker sites offer some form of free poker making use of virtual currency. These are often in the form of mobile apps or social media games. Popular free poker offerings from major poker providers include:
- WSOP social gaming platform
- PokerStars.net (and a social gaming platform)
- WPT social gaming platform
- ClubWPT – Sweepstakes poker site of the World Poker Tour
Free poker apps are a fun way to play and practice without any real money on the line. Global Poker also offers free ring games and tournaments through its sweepstakes model. Players also have the option of using Sweeps Coins earned as well for a shot at redeeming them for real cash.
If you want to set up a private home poker game for your friends online, you can do so via the free play money platform at PokerStars.net. You can also access free-to-play poker platforms in virtually any other non-legalized states including Florida, Texas, etc.
Estimates for Traffic in California Legal Online Poker
Legal online poker in California could be a game changer for the industry. The state is the most populous in the US with 39.5 million people. With a large number of poker rooms and casinos, there would be a massive pool of online players compared to the four states where online poker is already live. Those are:
Two more states have legalized online poker but have yet to have any sites go online:
Legalization in CA could alter the online poker landscape in the US. Major operators including PokerStars, partypoker, WSOP.com, and others would be interested in moving into the state. California legalization could also spur other high-population states to get on the bandwagon as well, especially if interstate compacts are allowed. Online poker in Florida or online poker in Texas would be similarly impactful.
As of 2020 the WSOP/888poker platform among Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware was at record numbers. Average days see between 500 and 800 players. If the site launched in California, that traffic could surge and be eclipsed easily in the Golden State.
Which Casinos in California Will Have Online Poker Sites?
If CA were to offer some type of legal online poker, it’s a good bet it would mimic current laws in other states at least to some degree. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, online operators partner with live casinos or other gaming enterprises in the state. For example, PokerStars partners with Resorts Casino in Atlantic City and Mount Airy Casino in Pennsylvania.
There is no shortage of CA casinos and card rooms that would look to get in on the action. With such a large population, the state could also probably support a few online poker sites. There are no current partnerships with a legal framework in place, but here are a few brands that might be ready to enter the online poker arena. Those might include:
Live Poker Rooms – While they may call themselves casinos many are in fact mostly card rooms. Some of those that stand out in the state include:
- Commerce Casino
- Bicycle Club
- Bay 101
- Ocean’s Eleven
and numerous others.
Tribal casinos – Along with poker rooms, there are also several tribal casinos that might be interested in online poker partnerships. A few of those might include:
- Agua Caliente
- Thunder Valley
- San Manuel
and others. Of these, Thunder Valley, Commerce, Bicycle, Gardens, Bay 101, and Ocean’s Eleven have all hosted WPT and WSOP Circuit events. Those with a large footprint in live poker may also look to add their imprint online.
For those hoping WSOP.com could be an option in the state, that could be possible in a legal environment. WSOP owner Caesars Entertainment operates Harrah’s Resort Southern California. This Indian casino is located in Valley Center and is owned by the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians.
If operators are allowed to partner with casino properties in the state, Harrah’s and WSOP make for a natural fit.
Popular Poker Games in California Card Rooms
Poker rooms are plentiful in California and the game has a deep tradition in the state. Numerous CA players from the state have gone on to success in major tournament series and events. Most of the major poker rooms in California offer all the major games players have come to love from low buy-ins to nosebleed stakes. The most popular poker games offered include:
- Texas Hold’em (limit and no limit)
- Omaha (and Hi/Lo)
- Seven Card Stud (and Hi/Lo)
- Lowball including Razz and Deuce to Seven
- Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple
Is Online Poker Legal in California?
Currently, online poker in California is not legal. For more than 10 years, several attempts have been made by legislators to legalize it, but with no success. With so many gaming interests in the state – including horse tracks, poker rooms, and tribal casinos – satisfying all interests with an online gaming law has been a struggle.
In those attempts, these stakeholders weren’t able to reach a consensus and the bill failed to come to a vote. In 2016, Assemblyman Adam Gray took a different approach from previous efforts and introduced AB 2863 during the 2016 legislative session. He hoped to solve the issue with the debate about whether horse racetracks should get involved in the state’s online poker industry.
The CA horse racing industry would have received up to $60 million per year from online poker taxes. Additionally, 5 percent of the annual taxes would have gone to California’s Fair and Exposition Fund, which supports administering agencies, state, county, and district fairs.
The other 95% would be divided three ways. The vast majority of that (95.4%) would go toward purses for horsemen. The remaining 4.6% would be evenly divided between pensions for horsemen and employees of racetracks. The bill didn’t address licensing fees or a tax rate. Previous versions required a $15 million deposit and a 15 percent tax rate.
AB 2863 also included a bad actor clause, which would have kept out operators like PokerStars, which operated in the US after the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was put in place in 2006. Because of this, PokerStars and its coalition rallied against the bill. The 2016 legislative session came to an end without a vote on AB 2863. Since then there hasn’t been much momentum in legalizing online poker.
Currently, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the only states that offer traditional legal online poker. West Virginia and Michigan have also legalized online gaming, including poker, but aren’t expected to offer any online poker sites until 2021.
Previously proposed legislation included the possibility of pooling players from California with players from other states such as Nevada or New Jersey, but California would first have to legalize online poker. Even if online poker was legalized, continued debate about the Wire Act might jeopardize any current efforts at interstate compacts and shared liquidity. The Department of Justice has argued that the act applies to other forms of online gaming beyond sports betting.
The gaming industry argues that the law was meant solely for sports betting. A change in that could jeopardize online lotteries, online poker, and other forms of iGaming. The Wire Act issue remained in federal court as of April 2020, but the gaming industry (led by a lawsuit by the New Hampshire lottery) had won an early round before the DOJ appealed.
Past California online poker bills
California Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer introduced AB 167 in 2015. The bill would have permitted all card clubs, tribes and racetracks to offer online poker in California.
Additionally, it would have created player penalties for giving action to unlicensed, offshore sites. This bill had the support of the PokerStars coalition, but not the Pechanga coalition.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced AB 9 during the 2015 California legislative session. This bill included a “bad actor” clause and did not permit licensing of racetracks. This bill had the support of the Pechanga’s coalition, but not PokerStars’ coalition.
Finally, State Sen. Isadore Hall and Assemblyman Gray introduced SB 278 and AB 431, respectively. These were placeholder bills with no primary language about online poker.
PokerStars’ coalition consists of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Commerce Casino, Hawaiian Gardens and the Bicycle Casino.
This group opposes the so-called “bad actor” clause, which would exclude any company that accepted bets after Dec. 31, 2006, in the US without proper licensing.
The reason for PokerStars’ coalition’s opposition to the clause is apparent. As a result of the provision, PokerStars would be excluded from operating in California, removing the group’s partner.
The PokerStars coalition also supports the inclusion of the state’s racetracks. The consensus is that any bill that does not include the horse racing industry will get a veto by Gov. Jerry Brown.
There are seven tribes that oppose bad actors and the participation of racetracks in California. Those tribes are:
- Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
- Barona Band of Mission Indians
- Lytton Band of Pomo Indians
- Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians
- Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
- Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation
- Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation
Other tribal positions
Most other California tribes have remained mostly silent on the issue of racetracks or bad actors. Pala Interactive, the online gaming subsidiary of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, appears to expect the inclusion of racetracks.
Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians partnered with Caesars for its land-based casino. Hence, it seems logical that it would use WSOP.com for its interactive gaming. Rincon and Caesars both stated that they support the inclusion of PokerStars in the California online gaming market.
A Brief History of Poker in California
Poker has a deep history in California with poker dating back to its days during the Old West and American westward expansion. Poker is synonymous with the western frontier and flourished in the 19th Century during this expansion.
Miners flush with new cash during the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s hit the tables to gamble some of their new earnings. The state’s constitution in 1879 outlawed all forms of gambling but left out draw poker, which was considered a gentleman’s game. An 1891 law making gambling illegal again left out draw poker.
Legal or illegal, poker continued to flourish. Poker clubs continued into the 1900s sometimes despite even local bans on gambling. Californians historical love of poker just wouldn’t go away and Gardena became a particularly popular hotbed for several poker clubs in the 1950s.
Varying localities offered different regulations and poker rooms continued well into the 1980s and ‘90s. Poker remains extremely popular in CA and keeps alive the state’s spirit of the frontier and the favored game of the Old West.
California online poker FAQ
Why should I play only at legal online poker sites?
Should online poker ever become legal in California, players can be assured that their money and personal information are safe. In the US, legal online poker sites must adhere to strict laws and regulations. For example, the Nevada Gaming Control Board regulates online poker for the state of Nevada. WSOP.com and its partner 888poker are trusted websites with proven experience in running online gaming. Player safety and security are paramount.
WSOP.com even assures players on its website: “If you use this website to send personal data to Caesars Operating Company, Inc., your transmission will be protected by Secure Socket Layer (SSL).” SSL is a technology employed by Caesars Entertainment and other online operators that encrypts your information during transmission. Caesars further notes: “It is our policy to take all reasonable steps to ensure that your personal data is securely maintained with access limited to those who need such access to serve you.”
You won’t see anything like this at offshore, unregulated sites. They aren’t governed by any US gaming commission and don’t meet strict standards of operation like legal US sites.
Player collusion is another security issue that could impact the fairness of the game for players. To combat this, WSOP.com and other operators have software that monitors this issue and other discrepancies. This helps maintain the integrity of the game. Offshore and underground sites are not as heavily regulated as legal online poker sites. Slow payouts and loss of player funds are regular complaints of former players. Playing on legal, safe online poker sites offers numerous player protections.
Why is California behind other states in legalizing online poker?
While California was one of the first states to offer legal card clubs, its ability to move that a variety of factors hampers the industry’s move to the internet.
There are three gaming segments in California: card clubs, racetracks and tribes. All three have different opinions as to how to approach online poker, even within the groups. Because of this, there are issues with agreeing on how to move forward.
Additionally, there are conservative groups that oppose any form of gambling expansion.
How many poker players are there in CA?
That’s a difficult question to answer but a visit to any card room in the state will find plenty of players battling it out at the poker table. With a population of 39.5 million, it’s a good bet at least a few million consider themselves poker players to some degree or another.
Can you play on PokerStars in CA?
No, PokerStars is available to players in numerous countries around the world, but that doesn’t include all of the US. As of April 2020, PokerStars is only available in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the US. And these states are “fenced in” markets, meaning players in those states only play each other online – no shared liquidity markets at the moment.
Can you play on WSOP.com in CA?
No, WSOP.com is currently only available in Nevada and New Jersey, where it functions in a shared liquidity market. That also includes its software partner 888poker’s offerings in New Jersey and Delaware. This combination remains the largest legal online poker platform in the US.
New players on WSOP.com in legal states can currently claim a free no deposit bonus for opening a new poker account.
Does Commerce Casino have an online poker site?
Commerce Casino doesn’t have an online poker site. However, you can follow the casino’s news on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Here you can keep updated with the latest news and receive discounts, invitations, and special deals and promotions.
Does Bicycle Casino have an online poker site?
The Bicycle Casino doesn’t have an online poker site. However, it does boast livestream poker games with its Live at the Bike online show. The poker room remains one of the most popular in the state.
Can you play on offshore poker sites in CA?
Offshore poker sites are NOT licensed or regulated. This may make players’ information and funds vulnerable to security breaches. Players of these sites often complain about slow payouts and if the site folds altogether players may not be refunded.
A better option for California residents would be to use a platform in Nevada. Global Poker, a sweepstakes poker site, is another option and is available to players in the Golden State.
What are the main issues keeping online poker from legal online poker?
The main issues pertaining to the inclusion of racetracks and PokerStars.
Will California offer legal online casino games?
All bills introduced up to this point have only proposed legalizing poker. They did not include casino games or sports betting.
Will California pool with other legal poker states?
Most California online poker bills have proposed the possibility of sharing players with other states, so it is possible that California could choose to pool players with New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware should the state move forward on legalizing internet poker.
As of 2020, however, this wasn’t just a question of a state’s choice. Until the murkiness of the Wire Act is made clear, interstate compacts remain an open question.
Other states that have recently legalized, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, haven’t included shared liquidity in their online gaming legislation. This could be altered once legal disputes are cleared up on the issue.
How soon would California launch online poker if it passes legislation?
It would take between 12 and 18 months for California online poker to launch if approved by lawmakers.
Will PokerStars operate in California?
That depends on the bill that eventually passes. While some include language that would specifically exclude PokerStars, some industry experts believe that a bill excluding PokerStars can never pass in California.
How much tax revenue will California generate?
It is estimated that California online poker rooms would generate about $350 million a year in rake. This would translate to $35 million a year in tax revenue at a rate of 10 percent.
Additional licensing fees for sites and employees would also create taxes for the state.
Will California poker sites be available outside of California?
Legal California poker sites would only be available in states where a liquidity sharing agreement is created. Otherwise, players will be required to be in California at the time of action.