Online Casinos in California

California-based businesses aren’t allowed to operate casino sites because of the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, or UIGEA. This law prohibits all US companies from knowingly accepting payments related to bets or wagers placed over the internet.

California Online Casino fact sheet:

State-sanctioned sites:No. UIGEA still in effect.
Offshore casino sites:Illegal
Social sites:Legal
Sweepstakes sites:Legal
Online casino bill:No. all efforts were focused on poker.

Sweepstakes-based casinos for real cash prizes

Fortunately, Californians aren’t completely out of options for playing casino games online. One solution is to use sweeps cash casinos – like Chumba Casino, which run on virtual currencies while simultaneously providing their customers with an opportunity to win real money prizes.

The model is simple: players need to purchase virtual currency bundles to play the games. Each of those bundles comes with a promotional set of sweepstakes tickets, which can also be used to play the games. The catch is that you can win more of them if you put them at risk. Every ticket that has been played at least once can be used to redeem real money prizes, i.e., cash out.

Legally, what makes this model work is the fact that virtual currency is the purchasable product, and the sweepstakes tickets are handed out for free as promotional gifts. Because sweepstakes-based promotions are legal in California and virtual currency holds no intrinsic value and can even be transferred outside the casino site, California residents are free to play on such platforms without violating Section 330.

Sweepstakes online casino – Chumba Casino

Chumba Casino was one of the first sweepstakes sites that appeared on the US market in 2018. Players who purchase virtual currency from Chumba are awarded sweepstakes tickets at a 1:1 rate, which is also maintained when you redeem them for cash. The site also runs a promotion that allows you to receive ten tickets for purchasing your first $5 bundle.

Chumba Casino software is 100% browser-based, which makes it compatible with most modern computers and mobile devices. Its game library is relatively small, composed of 42 video slots (including four progressive jackpot games), one video poker game, and one blackjack game, but all the available titles were designed in-house and cannot be accessed via any other site.

While Chumba games tend to be based on slots designed by well-established developers, they’re far from being cheap knock-offs. Their production value is top-notch, and the gameplay is smooth and satisfying.

What’s more, Chumba’s blackjack is arguably one of the most newbie-friendly table games on the market at the moment as it comes with a Show Odds feature that allows you to check the odds of winning your hand if you opt to stand instead of hitting.

There is also a new sweeps based casino launched in 2019, Lucky Land Slots is now available for California residents.

Social casino sites

Section 330 applies exclusively to real money games, which means that California residents are free to play on social casino sites such as Slotomania, Zynga, or Big Fish. While those sites are entertaining, we recommend playing on MyVegas, which is a social platform operated by MGM, a company that also owns the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino located in Nevada.

The loyalty points accumulated by playing on MyVegas can be exchanged for comps at MGM Grand, which include free meals, retail items, and free hotel stays.

What’s in store for the future?

The UIGEA includes an exception permitting the states to explicitly legalize online gambling, which is why it doesn’t apply to licensed gambling sites operating in Nevada, New Jersey, or Delaware. California lawmakers haven’t made a serious attempt at legalizing online casino games as all their efforts have been concentrated on internet poker.

This prohibition was tested in the court by one of the casino-operating Native Californian tribes, the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel. The tribe launched a small bingo platform called Desert Rose Bingo to test the waters before expanding its online operations to poker.

Desert Rose Bingo servers were located on reservation land, and the tribe argued that it had the right to offer its services over the internet under the compact signed with the state. Had the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel succeeded, it could have paved the way for Native American casinos.

Unfortunately, the site was quickly subpoenaed, and in 2018, the tribe lost the legal battle to keep this project afloat in the Ninth District Court of Appeals. The judge noted that while the argument pertaining to the tribe’s jurisdiction over gambling on tribal land had merit, the act of making a bet took place elsewhere and thus constituted a violation of UIGEA.

If a bingo site powered by servers located on Native American land could be shut down by the California courts, then there’s no hope for any California-based business, tribal or non-tribal, to launch a casino site without an explicit legalization bill being put on the books.