Is Online Poker Legal in California in 2019?

As of 2019, sweepstakes-based poker sites are the only legal form of online gambling available in California.

Sweepstakes-based poker sites

Sweepstakes-based poker sites are a fun way to play online poker and online casino games in California. The primary currency used on sweepstakes sites is entirely virtual and can’t be transferred out, which means that it doesn’t hold any real-world value.

Players can purchase this virtual currency using real money. The catch is that every virtual currency pack is bundled with special sweepstakes tickets, which can be used to participate in sweepstakes cash games and sweepstakes tournaments. They can also be redeemed for real-money prizes as soon as they are wagered at least once.

This solution works because the basic, valueless virtual currency is the product you pay for. 

California poker fact sheet:

Land-based poker:Yes
Land-based card games:Yes
Largest poker room:Commerce Casino
Home games:Yes, but no rake allowed
Legal online poker:No

Sweepstakes model showcase – Global Poker

Global Poker became available to California resident in early 2017. Allowing for sweepstakes based online poker for real cash prizes! You can also play at it’s sister site Chumba Casino which offers online casino games for real cash prizes.

Global Poker supports 6-max and 9-max ring games as well as single- and multi-table tournaments. Available poker variants include No-Limit Hold’em, Fixed-Limit Hold’em, Pot-Limit Omaha, and Crazy Pineapple, which is a Hold’em variant in which players are assigned three hole cards instead of two and must discard one of them after the flop.

The site sees enough traffic to keep the tables running 24/7, but if you want to participate in high-stakes games, we recommend playing during the evening peak traffic hours.

The software is HTML5-based, which makes it compatible with a wide range of desktop computers and mobile devices. Unfortunately, there is no download option, but the browser app supports playing on multiple tables at once.

Federal gambling regulations

California card rooms and tribal casinos can’t launch online poker rooms because of the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or UIGEA. The UIGEA was put on the books in 2006 and prohibits American businesses from knowingly processing payments for any wagers placed over the internet.

The UIGEA doesn’t apply to licensed companies operating in states that explicitly legalized internet gambling, which is why Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware are allowed to run online poker sites with this law still in effect.

Numerous California Assemblymen and Senators, such as Roderick Wright, Lou Correa, Lloyd Levine, Mike Gatto, Adam Gray, Isadore Hall, and Reggie Jones-Sawyer, have tried pushing for similar regulations to be introduced in the Golden State since 2008, but none of their proposals have gained enough support to make it to the governor’s desk.

Native American online poker

In November 2014, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel tribe tried to take matters into its own hands. The tribe launched a real-money bingo site called Desert Rose Bingo in an attempt to test the UIGEA prohibition and potentially lay the groundwork for a future Native American internet poker project.

The servers that powered the site were located within the reservation, and the tribe maintained that it had the right to offer its gambling products online because the compact signed with the state authorized it to offer Class II games on tribal land.

The government immediately filed an injunction, forcing the site to be temporarily shut down. The legal battle lasted four years, and in 2018, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled that the operation was illegal.

The judge agreed with the tribe regarding its jurisdiction over gambling on Indian land but noted that the act of placing a wager took place elsewhere on the territory of California, constituting a violation of the UIGEA.

This ruling proved without a shadow of a doubt that even the Native Californian tribes would not be able to launch legal poker sites without statewide legalization.

California Penal Code

Over the years, California poker players became discouraged with the lack of progress on the legislative front, and many turned to offshore poker platforms to get their internet poker fix. After all, these platforms can’t be shut down by the government as they are typically based in places like Panama or Antigua.

In the world of offshore gaming, the UIGEA doesn’t prevent you from enjoying the game; it merely inconveniences you when you try to make a deposit.

Unfortunately, the legality of playing on offshore sites is a contentious issue. Section 330 of the California Penal Code states that participating in any banking or percentage game constitutes a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

However, experts on gambling law can’t seem to agree on whether online poker offered by offshore platforms can be classified as a banking or percentage game. Pondering the technicalities of this issue should probably be left to people like Chuck Humphrey or Nelson Rose – we just want to emphasize that determining whether an online player can be punished if caught is impossible without precedent.