I know many people who bet on sports online who live in California. In addition, I can’t find a record of anyone who has been arrested for placing bets online in the state.
Does this mean California online sports betting is legal?
While I’d love to tell you I have an answer that’s 100% perfect and easy to understand, the truth is that it’s complicated to separate truth from fiction.
I’ve gathered as much information as I could below including information about the current laws and how to place bets.
I’m not a lawyer so nothing on this page is legal advice. If you want legal advice find an attorney. The legal landscape of online gambling in California and the United States changes as new laws are put into place so even if something on this page was correct when it was published it may have changed.
In the United States, only four states have the legal ability to offer sports betting. Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Delaware are the four states, but Nevada is the only one that has a full book-making industry. The other three states have limited legal sports betting.
The US has a federal law that specifically makes operating a sports betting business illegal except for the specific laws in the four states listed above.
Like most laws concerning online gambling, legal online sports betting in California is in a gray area at best.
While it’s clearly illegal to own a sports betting or bookie business in most areas of the United States is it illegal to place bets? Is it illegal to place bets online?
Where does this leave us for California online sports betting?
Though many people argue the government hasn’t made a clear ruling on owning or operating an online sportsbook offering wagers to California residents, it’s pretty clear by their actions that they’ll go after you if they can get to you.
So I can’t state flat out that operating an online book-making business in California is illegal it’s close enough that I wouldn’t do it.
On the other hand, the US doesn’t seem to be interested in going after the players placing bets on sporting events online. This is similar to how the government treats the local bookie businesses when they shut them down.
The bookie is usually charged with a crime but the people who placed bets with the bookie are ignored.
All of this creates a cloudy situation for prospective players.
As far as I can find, it’s not illegal to place bets online for California residents, but this won’t protect you if the state decides to start testing the current laws and charging players. I don’t believe that’ll happen, but this is simply an opinion, not based on a legal decision.
Though I’ve been wrong in the past, I don’t think California online sports betting will be legalized any time in the near future.
The only thing that may change this is if the New Jersey efforts to legalize sports betting are successful. At this time it doesn’t look like New Jersey will be able to get this done, but it’s possible.
Even if New Jersey does legalize sports betting in their casinos they still might not legalize it for online wagers.
It looks like online poker has a real chance to be regulated and legalized in the state in the near future.
Many people believe that when poker is legalized for online play the online casino industry will be close behind like it was in New Jersey.
Don’t be too quick to jump on the online casino bandwagon though because the tribal gaming casinos will fight tooth and nail to prevent laws regulating online casinos in California.
Where to Place Bets
From all the doom and gloom that you just finished reading, you probably expect me to tell you that California sports bettors are out of luck.
The truth is that California online sports betting is alive and well.
You can find dozens of online bookmakers willing to take bets from California residents. Some of them have been in business for years and have strong reputations for honest service and quality play.
Do a little research and find an online sportsbook that has a good reputation and has been in business for at least a couple of years. It’s not that all new bookmakers are bad, but until they have established a track record of paying winners and quality customer service I don’t trust them with much of my action.
Of course, you can always place bets with a local bookie, but the problem I have with doing this is how the bookie keeps track of my information. If he gets arrested will the police find records of my betting activity?
Even though history says they won’t charge me even if they do find records of my play, who knows what the future may hold? I’m not interested in being the subject of an overeager prosecutor’s rampage or being charged with something like this if they decide they can’t get me for something else.
Remember they got Al Capone on tax evasion because they couldn’t make anything else stick. Of course, I’m not involved in anything illegal, but that doesn’t change the fact that if the bookie has my details they may fall into hands I don’t want to have them.
Many California residents travel into Nevada, usually Las Vegas, to place sports bets. Some professional bettors travel into Vegas every week to place their bets at the local sportsbooks.
California online sports betting is available but the laws are cloudy. You should be fine if you simply make bets on sporting events online, but you don’t want to open your own sportsbook.
If other states start breaking through with legalized online sports betting California may follow suit, but I don’t expect it to happen any time in the near future.