Poker has long been one of the most popular pastimes in California. The state is dotted with poker rooms large and small, and many of the biggest poker championships in the United States are hosted in the state. With a rich history in poker, it is surprising that the state still hasn’t come up with a way to please everyone with regulations to make online poker legal across California.
This page will give you all the information you need about online poker in California – how we got to where we are today, what options are available to poker fans across the state, and guides on how to play some of the most fun variants of the game today. We’ll also be updating this page with any news that comes across the wire that could change the state’s position on legal online poker.
A brief history of online poker in California
As we mentioned, land-based poker is alive and well in California. There are card rooms all over the state offering cash games and tournaments, and casinos like Bay 101 in San Jose and The Commerce and the Bicycle in Los Angeles have been hosting prestigious World Poker Tour events for over a decade.
So what happened to online poker? Well, if you remember back to the early 2000s, the United States fell in love with playing poker online, especially when Chris Moneymaker won his seat to the World Series of Poker in 2003 at Poker Stars and went on to win the Main Event wearing their log on his hat and shirt. From that moment on, the online poker boom had begun. Events like the WPT tournaments in California saw huge growth from the introduction of online satellites and it felt like there was no stopping the industry.
Unfortunately, what many poker players didn’t know about online poker sites is that they were all based outside of the United States, and potentially operating outside U.S. law. To try to combat these sites taking revenues outside the country, the federal government passed legislation to make all banking transactions in the country illegal, and between 2006 and 2011, the government was able to shut down all the major online poker sites accepting players from around the country.
Meanwhile, in the background, California was trying to find a way to make online poker legal for its residents. California, unlike many other states, considers poker to be a game of skill, so it doesn’t fall under the same regulations as casino games. With that in mind, it should have been much easier to come up with legislation that would make online poker legal, but to date, there hasn’t been enough consensus among the stakeholders to bring legislation to a vote.
One main issue in California regarding online poker regulation is what entities will be allowed to have licenses. Many native tribes in California claim that they should have the rights to offer online poker games, and although there have been several attempts to have tribes work together in a coalition, these efforts have proven to be fruitless. As a result, online poker remains without legislation in California, forcing residents to wait patiently for potential solutions to this gridlock.
Social Poker and Subscription Poker
When the real money online poker market came crashing down in 2011, there were attempts to find ways to keep people playing from their computers and mobile phones. These days, there are a couple of ways that poker enthusiasts can keep their skills sharp.
Social Poker sites like Zynga Poker and Global Poker allow players to play for free or purchase play chips to enter larger buy-in events. These sites have thousands of players playing at any given time, and while you can’t win real money directly by playing with these types of sites, the gameplay is similar to playing in real-money games.
There has also been a poker tournament revival in the form of subscription-based games. Led by the World Poker Tour, sites like ClubWPT allow players to pay one monthly subscription fee and have access to playing in tournaments where they can win thousands of dollars of prizes. Again, while there is no cash to be won directly on these types of sites, there are events that qualify players for live WPT events where a player can then go on to take down the title and the cash that comes along with it.
While neither of these types of poker are exactly the same as the heydays of real money online poker in California, they do offer players a chance to feel the rush of making a great hand and scooping up the winning chips.
Online Poker Playing Guides
Whether you are playing online or land-based poker, you still need to understand the game, and our experts are here to help! We have a team dedicated to improving your game or teaching you how to play something new. Check out our Online Poker Guides:
Cash Game Guide
While many California residents are used to playing in tournaments, it is cash games where the real money can be made! We outline the differences between cash game and tournaments as well as give you an understanding of how best to approach a cash game session, no matter your stakes level of play.
Tournament poker has seen the most innovation of the years and making sure you know what you are signing up for is crucial in ensuring the best overall experience. We’ll guide you through all the terminology you will hear at a poker tournament, as well as explain to you what types of tournaments are best suited for your style of play. No matter if you are playing in a California poker room or playing online in a market where it is available, you will find everything you need to know in this guide.
Poker Variant Guide
If you have played online poker before from California or anywhere else, you have likely been playing Texas Hold’em. While this is overwhelmingly the most popular poker variant, you should learn to play all the other games as well. We’ll outline the rules of games like Omaha and Chinese Poker in this quick Guide the Poker Variants, and you’ll be more confident sitting down at any virtual table you come across!
California Online Poker FAQ
With all the talk about sports betting becoming legal in California, will that make it easier to make poker legal?
Since May 2018, the U.S. gaming world has been buzzing about legalized sports betting across the country. Many states have either passed legislation or in the process of doing so. In California, there have been several steps taken to bring sports betting regulations to the state. These have been separate discussions than those that took place around online poker, but any conversation about legalizing online gambling should be beneficial for the entire industry. Expect the movement on this topic to be slow, but once it gains traction, we may very well see a more comprehensive bill that includes online poker for California residents.
Are there any offshore poker sites left?
After the Department of Justice shut down the top online poker sites that were available to California residents, the industry looked pretty bleak. However, several smaller sites seemed to have avoided the long arm of the law, and continue to operate and accept poker players from California. These sites, however, are very difficult to move money to and from, and a couple have gone out of business without warning in the last few years, leaving players out in the cold. While they may seem enticing, we suggest that our California readers steer clear of these companies.