History of Gambling in California

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California’s state law does not specifically make gambling legal or illegal: rather, it makes certain forms of gambling illegal. For example, traditional craps (played with dice) is illegal in California.  And with roughly 160 casinos and card rooms combined, 6 horse tracks and more than 21,000 lottery retail locations, California’s gambling industry generates more revenue than just about any state in the country.

Poker
According to California’s constitution, poker is not illegal, so card rooms (also called “card clubs” or “California Casinos”) have been around since California became a state (V. Gambling in California, 1997) in 1850 (California Becomes a State, n.d.).

It is important to remember that, although the most skillful poker players will usually win in the long run, there is a tremendous element of luck involved.

Even the best poker players can lose, sometimes consistently for long periods of time. And because of the luck involved in poker, poker players can develop a gambling addiction just like any other gambler.

Lottery
The California lottery was created by popular vote of Proposition 37 in 1984 (About Us, 2011). As of 2010, lottery tickets for nearly 10 different games and dozens of scratchers were sold throughout California by more than 21,000 retailers (Higher Prize Payouts Will Earn More Money for Schools, 2010).

Race Tracks
California legalized betting on horse races in 1933 with a constitutional amendment (V. Gambling in California, 1997). Today there are 6 major racetracks and approximately 30 off track betting (OTB) facilities throughout California (California OTB, n.d.).

Casinos
Gambling on Native American lands within California was legalized following a constitutional amendment (“proposition 1A”) which passed by popular vote in the year 2000 (California Online Voter Guide 2000, 2000). After passage the tribes negotiated individual licenses, called “compacts,” with the state of California.

Compacts include regulations for how much each tribe must pay in taxes, how much money tribes with casinos need to share with tribes without casinos, and what services (education, health, police, etc.) the tribes are responsible for providing on their own lands. Because not all tribes make or have the same amount of money, each compact was negotiated individually.

Most compacts, in accordance with the constitutional amendment, allow the casinos to have Class 1 and Class 2 gaming. This means that they can have card games (blackjack, poker, etc.), slot machines, and bingo.  Certain games (craps and roulette) are still illegal in California because they use dice (craps) or a ball (roulette), but legal variations of these games using cards have been developed and can also be found in Native American Casinos.

The compacts also outline the laws, rules and regulations which each tribe operating a casino must follow. Most compacts are very similar but, because each compact was negotiated separately, some Native American casinos may have slightly different regulations than others.1

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