The California Casino Scene

California State Image With a Casino Background

When I think of states with a lot of casinos or a lot of gambling, California isn’t the first one to come to mind. In my mind, people from California who want to gamble usually go to Nevada to visit Las Vegas.

But, as it turns out, the California casino scene is poppin’. You can find over 60 different casinos throughout the state.

In this post, I provide an overview of what the California gambling scene is really like.

An Overview of the California Casino Scene

When it comes to overall number of casinos in the state, California is #2 – right after Nevada. It’s not really close, though. California has somewhere north of 60 casinos in operation, while Nevada has around 350 different casinos.

Still, 60+ casinos is an impressive number.

Poker is a big deal in California, and there are as many (or more) cardrooms in the state as casinos.

The two biggest casinos in California are:

You can gamble at the age of 18 in the state of California, although some casinos have policies to only allow 21+ year old gamblers. That’s not a state law, though – that seems to just be a corporate policy for some casinos.

California doesn’t just have casinos and cardrooms, though – the state also has at least 10 parimutuel racetracks, too.

Most of the casinos and gambling in California are tribal in nature.

Types of Gambling Allowed in California

If you want to run a casino in California, you need to be involved in a Native American tribe. No one else is allowed to run casinos in the state. Native American tribes are considered more-or-less independent nations within the United States, and they have specific agreements with state governments (called “compacts” which govern their affairs.

In many states, these compacts include the right to operate casinos as long as the money goes toward the welfare of the tribe. I guess the United States figures it’s the least they can do, considering.

In California, these casinos have a limited amount of freedom in terms of what they can offer. Electronic gaming machines – like slots and video poker — are allowed. Blackjack and other card games are also permitted.

California High Limit Slots

Games which use dice and spinning wheels, like craps and roulette, are not legal in the state. As you’ll read later in this post, California has workarounds for these restrictions.

In many states where Indian tribes are allowed to offer slot machines, state law requires them to release their payback statistics. This is NOT the case with California casinos. Your guess as to the slots payback percentages for these casinos is as good as anyone else’s.

Many of the casinos in California are smaller operates, especially in Southern California.

But the state has its share of large casinos, too.

Cardrooms are almost ubiquitous in the state, too, and they often operate independently of any casino. Some cardrooms even offer player-banked versions of blackjack. There are almost 100 cardrooms throughout the state.

California Craps and California Roulette

Since it’s illegal to use dice or spinning wheels to determine outcomes of gambling games in California, the casinos there have come up with workarounds to get outcomes for games that mirror craps and roulette. These “California craps” and “California roulette” games use a deck of cards to duplicate the odds of traditional craps and roulette.

(Oklahoma used to do the same thing until they changed the laws recently.)

Here’s how that works, although the actual mechanisms sometimes vary by casino:

In some casinos, they will take cards numbered ace through six from two different suits and draw a card of each suit to get a craps total. The odds this way are exactly the same as they would be if you rolled two dice. You still have the same 36 possible outcomes with the same odds of achieving each of them.

California Craps Game

Another way some casinos determine these results is to use a deck of cards with 36 cards in it. Each of those cards is coded to correspond to one of the possible outcomes of a pair of dice.

Some people might be confused about this. After all, if you roll two dice, you only have 11 possible totals.

But some of those totals are more common than others because you have multiple ways to get those totals.

For example, a total of seven is the easiest total to get in craps because you can roll any of the following combinations to get that total:

  • 1, 6
  • 2, 5
  • 3, 4
  • 4, 3
  • 5, 2
  • 6, 1

And yes, the order does matter.

California roulette is easier to understand. In a standard roulette game, you have 38 possible outcomes – one for each number on the wheel.

When you’re playing roulette in California, those 38 outcomes are determined by drawing a card from a deck consisting of – you guessed it – 38 cards. These California roulette games use automatic continuous shuffling machines.

Without the rolling of the dice or the spinning of the wheel, craps and roulette lose some of their appeal. They’re still offered by California casinos, but they’re not exactly popular. Most gamblers enjoy playing blackjack for real money, and since that’s perfectly legal the way it was intended to be played, that’s where the casino devotes most of its table gaming space in California.

Can You Gamble Online in California?

Even though traditional brick-and-mortar cardrooms and casinos are common enough throughout the state, there is no official, regulated online gambling scene in the state. There are no online casinos or online cardrooms operating within California’s borders.

You can, theoretically, play at any number of offshore casinos and poker rooms from California.

I try to restrain my opinions about the legality of that from a player perspective. It’s clear that it’s a grey area for these offshore casinos to offer casino games, poker, and sports betting for California gamblers.

It’s not clear what is the legality for California gamblers to play at these sites, though. In fact, I know of exactly zero instances of an online gambler getting in any kind of trouble for placing real money wagers of any kind on the internet.

What Is San Manuel Casino Like?

San Manuel Casino is in Highland, California and requires its patrons to be 21 years old or older to enter. It’s the largest casino in the state and easily one of the most popular. They’re open 24/7.

Highland is a little over an hour outside of Los Angeles. They offer slot machines and traditional table card games. They just renovated their non-smoking area in the casino, too.

San Manuel Casino in California

Like many casinos, San Manuel organizes their gaming into various areas. The Rockin’ Casino, for example, has over 800 new slot machines and 16 table games. It’s designed to have a rock and roll feel. The high limit room, on the other hand, offers a newly-renovated casino experience at the upper betting limits – both slots and card games.

San Manuel has a lucrative arrangement with Konami and boasts of having more Konami games than any other casino in the world. They also offer over 130 different tables of casino games – mostly blackjack.

Finally, the Lotus Palace is an Asian-themed casino gambling area with baccarat and Asian-inspired slots.

What Is Thunder Valley Casino Resort Like?

Thunder Valley Casino Resort is located in Lincoln, California, and they’re open 24/7. The casino offers 3000 different gambling machines, including some big name slots like the following:

  • Farmville
  • Lightning Link
  • Lock It Link Superlock
  • Quick Hits
  • Triple Diamond
  • Wizard of Oz Munchkinland

They offer slot machine gambling at all betting limits, too, from penny slots to $100 per spin.

All the slot machines in the casino tie into their Thunder Strike Jackpot, which has a payout of between $50k and $100k.

They also offer a robust selection of casino games, including:

  • Baccarat
  • Blackjack
  • Blackjack Switch
  • Chase the Flush
  • Criss Cross
  • DJ Wild
  • Face Up Pai Gow Poker
  • Fortune Pai Gow Progressive
  • Four Card Poker
  • Free Bet Blackjack
  • Mystery Card Roulette
  • Spanish 21
  • Three Card Poker
  • Thunder Valley Craps
  • Ultimate Texas Hold’em
  • Zappit Blackjack

Their “Thunder Valley Craps” is another example of California Craps. In this version, the craps table has a red box and a blue box. You toss the cubes on the table, and the number of dots on the cube corresponds to a card. That card determines the craps total.

“Mystery Card Roulette” works just like any other California roulette game – you draw a card from a deck of 38 cards, and it determines which roulette number was the winner.


California is a big state for gamblers – especially casino gamblers and poker players. You can’t find any place to bet on sports here, yet, and online gambling is more-or-less off-limits.

But there are enough casinos in the state that you can easily scratch that itch.

The state laws allow you to gamble even if you’re only 18, but many of the casinos require you to be 21 to gamble as a policy.