Is Online or Home Poker Legal in California - Californian Poker Sites

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The people of California are faced with a wide variety of different gambling laws. Whether you play casino games, buy lottery tickets, or bet on sports, there are rules and regulations you need to be aware of. Poker players, however, must deal with the most ambiguous and vague pieces of legislation.

Before we get into the details, it's important to realize that the United States Federal Government has a legal interest in gambling, but they only focus on individuals who operate illegal gaming establishments. They've tried to prosecute the actual players in the past, but on every occasion, the cases were thrown out before they could begin. These federal laws were designed to target organized crime figures, not poker players. Furthermore, California is currently undergoing hearings to legalize online poker in the state of California. SB1485 is currently in the state senate.

For more US poker information, please visit our online poker sites for us players page. Includes a list on which poker sites accept players from California.
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California's Poker Laws

Like so many of the state gambling laws in the United States, this legislation is often vague and it definitely hasn't been updated to directly address online poker. When we're inspecting these California poker laws, there is one term that is often misunderstood: "percentage game".

Percentage games, typically, are games where the operator (casino) participates in the game, and earns money through a built-in house edge, or a percent advantage. Blackjack, craps, roulette, and slots are all percentage games in the standard sense of the word. In California though, percentage games take on a slightly different meaning.

Percentage games are forbidden by California Penal Code §330, but these include games where the house does not participate in the game. In a poker game, if the house is taking a rake that's based on a percentage of the pot size, then the operator is actually breaking the law. There are, however, some very specific ways to work around this rule.

Playing in Home / Online Poker Games in California

Technically, it is illegal to host a poker game in your home. According to California Penal Code 337J, it's illegal to "deal, operate, carry on, conduct, maintain, or expose for play in this state any controlled game." And yes, California has designated poker as a controlled game.

When it comes to enforcement though, you probably won't be bothered if you're having some friends over for a party and a game of stud poker. If you are going to someone else's home to play, then you'll be fine as long as you aren't directly helping them run the operation. When it comes to playing online, the same laws apply; you can't start an online poker room, but you can legally play.

Playing Poker in California's Card Rooms

Even though the laws we've covered so far have been anti-poker, there are licensed card rooms in the state (largely in casinos). Now they still can't take a percentage rake, because percentage games are forbidden, but that's not the only way for a poker room to make a profit.

Instead of calculating the rake based on a percentage, these operators are allowed to use a tiered system made up of three different rake sizes (four if the first one is no-rake). As the pot gets larger, the rake increases following the tiered pattern, but percents are not used. For example, a casino's poker room might rake the pot by following this pattern:

# $0 rake for pots worth less than $15
# $1 rake for pots worth $15 - $25
# $2 rake for pots worth $25 - $45
# $3 rake for pots worth more than $25

Using this system as opposed to a straight percentage rake might seem like a negligible difference, but legally, it's a big deal.

View More USA Poker / Gambling Laws by State

Connecticut - Connecticut Poker Laws

Delaware - Delaware Poker Laws

Florida - Florida Poker Laws

Georgia - Georgia Poker Laws

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