All gambling must be pre-approved by the state
California’s state law does not specifically make gambling legal or illegal. It allows some forms to be legal while it makes other forms of gambling illegal. For example, traditional craps (played with dice) is illegal in California. All gambling must be pre-approved by the state of California through government licensing and is regulated by the Gambling Control Act. This act states that “gambling” means to “deal, operate, carry on, conduct, maintain, or expose for play any controlled game.” By excluding certain forms of gambling from the definition of “controlled game”, the state allows various types of gaming to exist legally.
Specifically excluded as a “controlled game” are the games of bingo conducted with certain restrictions, parimutuel racing on horse races regulated by the California Horse Racing Board, any lottery game conducted by the California State Lottery, and games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a player. These exceptions allow casinos and card rooms, horse tracks and more than 21,000 lottery retail locations, to generate more gambling revenue than just about any state in the country. California does not currently allow online gaming, though there is mounting political pressure to make it legal.
No prohibition on social games of poker
Some forms of gambling are illegal based on the type of device used. Craps and roulette are illegal in California because they use dice (craps) or a ball (roulette). However, legal variations of these games using cards have been developed and can be found in Native American Casinos. There is no specific state or federal law which prohibits social games of poker, so the Saturday night poker players in the family den could not be criminally convicted for illegal gambling.
In addition to state law, federal law also exists that makes it a crime for anyone to conduct an “illegal gambling business”. These operations are defined as gambling business which:
-is a violation of the law of the state in which it is conducted; and
-involves five or more persons who conduct, finance, manage, supervise, direct or own all or part of such business; and
-has been or remains in substantially continuous operation for a period in excess of thirty days, or has a gross revenue of $2,000 in any single day.
Daniel R. Perlman
The Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman