With the immense spread of online poker games throughout the last ten years, it’s been noted that California had the absolute largest population of any state in the US that participated in real money card games over the internet. Literally hundreds of thousands of Californians were affected in April of 2011 when the Black Friday of Online Poker struck.
The world’s largest poker sites were seized and effectively shut down by the US Department of Justice, hundreds of millions of American dollars frozen in accounts. California online poker players were in a state of panic until, out of nowhere, the DOJ suddenly decided it was okay for states to make their own laws in regards to online poker and other forms of gambling over the internet. Hopes were high that online poker would soon return to the state. That was nearly two and a half years ago…
Legality of Online Poker California
There are some interesting facts about gambling in general in California. For starters, it’s illegal to run a casino, and illegal to play gambling amusements, and yet California is home to 147 gambling establishments. However, they aren’t your typical casinos. More than half of them are card rooms, meaning they only provide licensed and legal poker games, and the rest are tribal casinos. Only poker rooms that follow the strictly enforced guidelines of the law and casinos operated by a Tribal Gaming Agency are legal in the state.
While that clears up the land-based gaming agenda, questions regarding online poker laws in California are much more common. If you’ve followed the news at all, the simple fact that so many legislatures have proposed one bill after another in an attempt to regulate online poker in California could be interpreted as a convincing clue that at present, no, online poker is not exactly a lawful activity in the Golden State. But in reality, that’s not the case. Let’s take a look at the current laws revolving around gambling activities in California. We’ll also discuss what state law makers are doing to bring regulated online poker to The Golden State.
California Statutes – Gambling Laws
The law makers in California are some of the wordiest, verbose authors of legislative literature in the United States, thus I’ll attempt to save you some of the anguish of reading the agonizingly repetitive and long-winded verbiage by removing some of the longer portions and replacing them with more concise language in [brackets like these], without losing the meaning behind them. The following laws are taken from the California Penal Code, Section 330-337z.
330.0 “Every person who deals, plays or [is involved in any possible manner, profitable or not] any game [you might fathom being in a casino] played with cards, dice, or any device, for [anything of value], and every [offender of above law], is guilty of a misdemeanor [fined 100-$1000 and/or up to 6 months in jail].”
330.1 [Anything that can be called a] “slot machine or [gambling] device” [is entirely illegal to own, have, play, transport, repair or have anything else to do with unless its antique (25+ years old) and is not being used for gambling.]
330.11. “Banking game or banked game does not include a controlled game if the published rules of the game feature a player-dealer position and provide that this position must be continuously and systematically rotated amongst each of the participants during the play of the game, ensure that the player-dealer is able to win or lose only a fixed and limited wager during the play of the game, and preclude the house, another entity, a player, or an observer from maintaining or operating as a bank during the course of the game. For purposes of this section it is not the intent of the Legislature to mandate acceptance of the deal by every player if the division finds that the rules of the game render the maintenance of or operation of a bank impossible by other means. The house shall not occupy the player-dealer position.”
This is just a minute portion of the gambling laws in California and, as I said before, abridged for more stable comprehension. If you care to read the full laws, please use the link provided at the top of this section.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in California?
The laws I chose to include in this document state that 1) casino gambling is illegal no matter how you look at it unless its provided by an authorized tribal casino; 2) slot machines are included as gambling devices and, therefore, also illegal; 3) poker is legal so long as the players act as rotating dealers while playing and the betting limits are fixed (i.e. No-Limit and Pot-Limit games are disallowed). Poker tournaments would be legal as well since players know exactly what they stand to lose upon registering and paying the buy-in.
There are no laws explicitly pertaining to whether poker can or cannot be played over the internet. In this regard, online poker is not illegal in California. Since poker games are legal in authorized card rooms, there are no penalties for playing in a poker game that meets the legal requirements.
Where most people get confused about California’s online poker laws is the fact that so many entities are trying so hard to regulate it. Regulation would allow the state to offer its own licenses, limit the way online poker can and cannot be played, and collect taxes on it in the process. Regulation and legalization are two completely different matters. Simply put, that means online poker is legal in California.
Is California working to regulate online poker?
While online poker isn’t illegal in California, certain law makers have been trying to regulate it for the last two years. All propositions have failed miserably due to infighting between tribal casinos, card room operators and politicians. One group wants certain limitations; another group wants lower taxation, and so on. In the greater scheme of things, it is projected that legislators will finally come to an agreement and pass a bill to regulate online poker sometime in 2014.
Sen. Lou Correa’s Senate Bill 678 has more potential to make its way onto the governor’s desk than any bill before it, and was submitted as an urgency statue, meaning it needs 2/3 approval from legislators, but would pass immediately to the governor if approved. It was also termed severable, which hastens its passage by stating that any portion of the law deemed ‘invalid’ can be removed without nullifying the rest of the bill. For the moment, however, the SB 678 has been shelved until next year.