Can You Play Roulette in California?

California Flag on Left and a Closeup of a Roulette Wheel on Right

California offers many different gambling opportunities. It features tribal casinos, racetracks, lotteries, and cardrooms.

If you want to gamble in the Golden State, then you won’t have to look far. Many different types of games of chance are available here.

But can you play roulette in California? This question comes up frequently when considering that this state has odd gaming laws

I’m going to discuss whether or not roulette is offered in California. I’ll also go over the strange nuances in the Golden State’s gambling laws.

California Laws Regarding Casinos Are Weird

Up until the millennium, the Golden State didn’t offer casino gaming. This situation changed, though, when Californians approved Proposition 1A in 2000.

This law amended the state constitution to legalize casinos on tribal lands. Tribes quickly began negotiating compacts with the CA government after Prop. 1A went into effect.

These negotiations did come with some limitations. Despite the constitutional amendment, the state’s laws still prohibit “casinos of the type currently operating in Nevada and New Jersey.”

This might sound funny at this point because many states have casinos now. But at that time Nevada and New Jersey were where almost all casinos in the US were located.

This snippet refers to how tribal casinos aren’t allowed to offer games involving dice (craps) and balls (roulette). The no-ball aspect is crucial to this conversation.

Tribal establishments can’t offer roulette in its traditional form. As covered in the next section, though, they’ve figured out a workaround that lets them provide the game in some capacity.

The Golden State Offers “California Roulette”

Roulette is one of the world’s most-popular casino games. That said, casinos like offering this sought-after table game whenever possible.

California tribal casinos, however, aren’t allowed to feature standard roulette. Despite being on sovereign reservations, even they must abide by this rule.

Lucky Lady Casino and Poker Card Room Sign, California State Flag

In 2004, they found a clever way around the laws with California Roulette. This game has been popular throughout the state ever since.

California roulette features similar gameplay to the traditional version. It differs, though, by using cards—rather than a wheel and ball—to determine results.

Here’s a rundown on how it works:

  • A deck of 38 cards is used to represent pockets.
  • The cards are numbered 00 through 36, just like on an American roulette wheel. They also alternative between black and red suits.
  • Players make bets on the cards, which are like standard roulette wagers.
  • The cards are put into an automatic shuffler.
  • The chosen card represents the winning pocket and color.

Most elements of CA roulette are similar to the regular game. Therefore, you shouldn’t have much trouble adjusting to it. As can be seen, though, the California variant does require some level of adjustment.

California Roulette vs. Traditional Roulette

California Roulette features several differences from the traditional version. You can see the biggest ways in which these games differ below.

No Wheel or Ball Involved

A normal roulette game features either a 38-pocket (American) or 37-pocket (European) wheel. The dealer spins the wheel and puts a small metal ball into play to determine results.

This classic roulette version has been played in casinos since the 1790s. Therefore, many people are used to the spinning wheel and ball aspects.

California Roulette puts an entirely new spin on the matter, without involving any spinning at all. You may even have trouble recognizing this game at first glance when seeing it at a tribal casino.

Cards Instead of Pockets

The absence of the wheel means that no pockets are involved with this game either. Instead, cards take the place of the pockets.

The 38 cards are numbered just like the pockets on an American roulette wheel. 00, 0, and 1-36 are all represented.

Card suit colors alternate to ensure that players can make red/black bets. Half of the cards are of a black suit while the other half are red.

Closeup of a Roulette Table

Ideally, CA tribal casinos would offer European roulette-style numbering (0, 1-36). European roulette carries a 2.70% house edge versus 5.26% for the American wheel.

The extra 00 in American roulette—which, like 0, favors the house—increases the house advantage to 5.26%. Unfortunately, California tribal casinos number cards like the pockets on an American wheel to increase their edge.

Automatic Shuffling Machine Determines Wins

In a standard roulette game, the ball spins around the wheel and eventually drops into a pocket. This pocket determines the winning number and color.

Of course, such a scenario isn’t possible in California Roulette. The cards—not a spinning wheel and ball—decide wins and losses.

Casinos can’t spin cards around to determine results. Therefore, they put the 38 cards into an automatic shuffling machine.

The shuffler, which completely randomizes the game just like a wheel/ball, spits out a winning card. This randomness makes CA roulette feel closer to the traditional version.

Only Available in the Golden State

California Roulette’s uniqueness is one of its greatest attributes. This game is unlike anything else offered in other casinos across the US.

It contains some elements of roulette, including the bet types and potential results (00, 0, 1-36). Again, though, it differs by relying on the use of cards and an automatic shuffling machine to pick winners.

You’re just not going to find this same setup in another American online casino, or even online casinos for that matter. Other casinos feature traditional roulette when permitted to offer table games.

California state flag blowing in the wind

California’s weird gaming laws have created this unique variation. The no-ball rule drove tribal establishments to invent an interesting way to enjoy roulette.

Is Online Roulette Legal in California?

The Golden State does not explicitly ban online gambling in its constitution. Therefore, mobile gaming is treated as a gray area here.

Many online casinos serve Californians. That said, you’ll have no trouble finding a real-money online roulette game to play.

These gaming sites are of the offshore variety. They operate from countries like Belize and Costa Rica, which don’t impose strict standards on operators.

As a result, these casinos feel perfectly comfortable offering games to the Golden State. They don’t see any legal consequences to doing so considering that CA lawmakers haven’t addressed the matter.

Of course, the state could regulate online gaming in the future. If this happens, then most offshore internet casinos would stop operating here. Until then, you can easily play mobile roulette here.

Will the Golden State Ever Offer Normal Roulette Games?

California Roulette isn’t exactly the same thing as traditional roulette. The latter determines results with a spinning wheel, ball, and pockets.

Most people would prefer to play standard roulette. Of course, the Golden State doesn’t have the traditional version. It’s worth pondering if California would ever legalize regular roulette.

The state government and tribes seem fairly happy with their current arrangement. The tribes deliver well over $100 million to the state every year. They also manage to draw large crowds to their casinos, which keeps them happy.

A Crowded Casino Floor

As long as this remains the case, then a push to legalize regular roulette may never materialize. Nobody seems in a hurry to change the status quo.

Of course, California visitors might appreciate playing a game they know rather than trying to learn an oddball variation. But for the time being, CA roulette is here to stay.


California doesn’t technically offer legal roulette—at night at least not in its regular form. However, you can play a unique version that’s only found in this state.

California Roulette differs from the traditional variation in a few ways. It doesn’t have a spinning wheel or ball and instead relies on cards to act as pockets.

You might find this version quite weird if you ever visit the Golden State. Provided you’re adept at roulette, though, you shouldn’t have much trouble playing it.

If you have a problem with California Roulette, then you can always opt for the mobile variation. Online roulette is easily accessible in this state thanks to offshore casinos.

The Golden State doesn’t seem set on changing how this game is played any time soon. That said, CA roulette appears here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Posted in: Gambling LawsTable Games

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