key takeaways

  • After two ballot measures failed in November 2022, California sports betting remains illegal. 
  • 2024 is likely the earliest sports betting could become legal in California, but an ongoing battle between lobby groups, Native American tribes and government stakeholders makes a quick resolution unlikely. 
  • California will most likely need a constitutional amendment to approve legal sports betting, which means another trip to the polls for voters at some point.

Is sports betting legal in California?

No. Sports betting remains illegal in both retail and online contexts in California. Though Californians had two different ballot options to legalize sports betting in November 2022, they declined to do so. 

When will sports betting launch in California?

Technically, 2024 is the earliest California sports betting could possibly launch if an agreement can be reached in 2023, but that seems unlikely. So, sports betting doesn’t have a realistic time frame for a debut in California. 

The future of California sports betting

The first step toward legalization is likely another vote on a prop brought forward by either the California legislature or the people of California. 

In all likelihood, California will require a constitutional amendment to bring sports betting to the state’s residents as a legislative solution without a successful ballot measure seems extremely unlikely. That means another trip to the polls for voters.

If voters approve any future sports betting measures, the launch process can begin. That process could take a year or more, which is why top executives from the biggest sportsbooks are so hopeful for 2024

What has become clear in the wake of 2022’s failed props is the power tribal entities wield in the legalization process. 

“The key takeaway from the election is that any future gaming expansion in California must go through the tribes,” San Manuel chief intergovernmental affairs officer Dan Little told LSR

The combination of powerful lobby groups, a strong coalition of tribes and a heck of a lot of money at stake makes the sports betting legalization process in California maybe the most complicated of any state. 

Given how unpopular the 2022 propositions proved to be and the tremendous pushback from key stakeholders in the state, the hill for sports betting advocates to climb is quite steep. 

Of course, it could be hard to come to any sort of definitive conclusion in 2024 amid a presidential election. Anyone looking forward to legal sports betting in California could be waiting quite a while.

What’s happening in California sports betting right now

Are online sportsbooks coming to California?

Not anytime soon, and perhaps not at all. California resoundingly rejected the notion of all types of sports betting in November 2022. The ballot revealed that opposition for the online betting measure was even stronger than it was for retail sportsbooks at tribal casino locations.

Fewer than one out of every five California voters said that they wanted online sports betting. It’s not clear how those who do want online sportsbooks in the state are going to overcome such a strong base of contention.

Latest California sports betting news

California sports betting bills and recent efforts

The failures of Props 26 and 27 at the November 2022 ballot box were the latest entries in a multiyear process of frustration for sports betting in California. Advocates have been trying to find a way to legalize wagering on sports in the nation’s most populous state since 2017 — before sports betting even became a state-level decision. Here is a summary of the most recent efforts to legalize sportsbooks in CA:

Past failed initiatives

California has been the subject of much anticipation since sports betting became a state-level decision in 2018. However, numerous hurdles ensured that all prior attempts failed earlier in the process than the 2022 proposals. Here are some of the prominent failed initiatives:

Why is sports betting so complicated in California?

Whether you live in California or not, you may not understand why sports betting is such a contentious issue in the state. After all, California’s population yields the potential for the state to be the largest sports betting destination in the country. Legalizing sports betting would undoubtedly add a lot of money to the state economy.

The problem is that there are several well-funded groups in the state that both have an interest in the future of sports betting in California and are well-connected to the political systems in the state. These groups do not always agree with one another. In fact, some of them are entrenched adversaries.

The primary stakeholder for all forms of gambling in California is a loose coalition of tribal groups. California is home to hundreds of federally recognized Native American tribes. These tribes own and operate all of the casino locations in the state. Furthermore, they have argued repeatedly that the language in their compacts with California gives them a monopoly over gambling in the state. This has led to their steadfast refusal to allow most expansions of gambling. Even though the tribes would likely benefit from legal sports betting in California, they do not want to run the risk that the expansion might cede some of their control to another group.

The tribes do not agree with or even acknowledge the existence of the state’s many card rooms. The rooms, which include some of the largest poker venues in the world, contend that they exist in a neutral space within the context of the compacts and California law. The tribes do not agree with this argument and go to great lengths to deny that the card rooms are legal. Tribal lobbyists have even gone to bat against lawmakers whose legislation acknowledges the card rooms in any way, as they fear that such a reference might grant the rooms some modicum of legitimacy.

A third player at the sports betting table is the group of horse racing tracks in California. The state is home to several prestigious racetracks, including Santa Anita Park. The tracks themselves don’t have any conflict with the tribal groups and are somewhat likely to be involved in any sports betting that comes to pass, but as mentioned, the tribes aren’t prone to taking chances with expanded gambling. 

Finally, no conversation about an issue in California doesn’t involve the state government. Lawmakers and regulators in Sacramento have no interest in allowing a gambling expansion to proceed without getting their piece. Sports betting would be a major infusion of cash into the state’s coffers. Still, the political realities in the state — particularly with the tribal groups — make outright support of sports betting legislation a tricky proposition.

Legal sports betting options in California

Aside from betting on horse racing, there are no legal sportsbooks that accept bets from anyone within the state of California.

There are illegal offshore sports betting sites that accept bets from people in California. They do not hold a license from any US jurisdiction to legally accept wagers.

Without being regulated in California, these offshore websites operate no oversight or guarantees for users. The only safe and protected way to bet on sports in the US is to do so with a licensed operator, of which California has none at the moment.

Popular sports teams in California

If sports betting does ever become legal in California, there will be no shortage of major professional teams on which to bet. And if the rules allow for betting on in-state college teams, there are a large number of those, as well. In fact, no other state has as many big-name teams inside its borders as California. 

NFL betting in California

NFL games draw more interest from US fans and sports bettors than any other athletic event. Sportsbooks time their launches and most aggressive promotions for the NFL season, and Super Bowl betting remains the biggest sports betting day of the year. Californians have the following teams to which they can attach their affections, if not their wagers:

Of course, there is a football team-shaped hole in Oakland that cannot be ignored. Many Californians will be Raiders fans until the day they die, no matter where they play. Nevertheless, there are worse excuses for a trip to Vegas than to see your favorite football team play.

NBA betting in California

The NBA is the second-most popular league for betting in the United States. As it stands, here are the teams that Californians can call their own:

MLB betting in California

Major League Baseball is the oldest of the four major sports leagues in the US and has a deeper connection to the essence of Americana than any of the rest. Thus, MLB games are a natural vehicle for wagering, and Californians have no shortage of options for finding hometown heroes.

NHL betting in California

Although California is likely more famous for sand than for ice, there are still plenty of hockey fans. California sports bettors would certainly be on the lookout for homegrown teams on which to bet, and three NHL squads fit the bill.

NCAA betting in California

College sports are both big money items and major sources of interest in California. California is home to more teams in the NCAA’s Division I than any other US state. Here are all the Californian teams that compete in the highest level of play at the collegiate level in at least one sport:

Betting on in-state teams might be a bit tricky, depending on what law California ends up using if it ever legalizes sports betting. The full text of Prop 26, the November 2022 referendum, prohibited betting on college teams during league play. Future pieces of legislation might also contain similar prohibitions, but we’ll have to wait and see.

California and daily fantasy sports

California and daily fantasy sports have an interesting relationship. DFS providers in California are the recipients of more contest entries and money than any other state. 

In a given year, they take in roughly $200 million in entry fees. At the same time, California has never legalized DFS and has essentially allowed the companies to fly under the radar in an unregulated status. 

Even though the state chooses thus far not to regulate and tax the industry, major DFS sites such as DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo, and Fantasy Draft operate in California.

Is horse racing legal in California?

Yes. California is one of the top locations for horse betting in the US. There are multiple tracks that you can visit and use, including the following:

Santa Anita, located in Los Angeles County, often hosts the Breeders’ Cup, considered part of the unofficial Grand Slam of racing following the Triple Crown. It also hosts the Santa Anita Handicap and the Santa Anita Derby.

There are also fairs in Northern California with summer racing, and the Cal Expo offers harness racing.

In addition to the live racing options, there are also several off-track betting locations in California where you can place a wager. These venues offer odds on both races inside California and races taking place around the country (and world). 

Finally, California allows residents to place wagers on horse betting sites wherever they are in the state. Online racebooks like TVG and FanDuel Racing take bets on races from anywhere in the state. If getting to a live track or OTB is too difficult, a legal horse betting site may be the answer.
Legal pari-mutuel wagering overseen by the California Horse Racing Board began in California in 1933. Racetracks have affiliated off-track betting parlors around the state. The minimum age for pari-mutuel betting in California is 18.

California sports betting timeline

2022

The events of the first half of 2022 favored the tribal groups in the state. A lawsuit by card room interests to challenge the legality of the retail sports betting initiative failed to gain an audience with the California Supreme Court in February, and a refiling of the same suit in March led to its dismissal in Los Angeles Superior Court in April.

April also saw the end of efforts for sports betting at card rooms in California. The tribes then declined to pursue passage of their own online sports betting measure in May, opting instead to fight against the sportsbook-backed proposal (Proposition 27).

However, the tribes were unable to stop the online measure’s momentum, and it gained access to the ballot in June when the secretary of state certified more than 1 million signatures on the petition. Thus, Californians voted on two separate sports betting propositions in November. However, both measures failed by wide margins.

2021

Although the counties needed an extension for signature verification themselves, they completed the task in May. In the end, the counties were able to certify just over 1 million signatures as valid. Thanks to a margin of roughly 65,000 signers on the tribes’ petition, California voters will have their first opportunity to vote on sports betting in November 2022.

A few months after the tribal measure gained its access to the ballot, two other proposals appeared on the scene in the Golden State. The two initiatives offered radically different options for the structure of a potential sports betting industry in California. Notably, both of them involved concepts for online sports betting. However, the two measures diverged rapidly from one another and from the tribal initiative after that point.

Both initiatives began their own signature campaigns in the fall of 2021. However, both of them faced substantial difficulties in joining the tribal initiative on the ballot in 2022. The card room measure was a non-starter for the tribes, which fundamentally opposed both the card rooms’ receipt of sports betting licenses and, for that matter, the existence of the card rooms themselves. The operator measure had its own challenges to meet after a November 2021 poll indicated that voters did not look favorably upon online sports betting.

Both initiatives have until mid-2022 to collect their required number of verified signatures to make the ballot in earnest.

2020

In January, Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray finally held an informational hearing on CA sports betting in the Joint Governmental Organization Committee. It didn’t have much in the way of sparks as the tribes and cardrooms bit their tongues and observed.

Their next hearing would more than make up for it. First, to set the table for the May hearing, you must know that the coronavirus that affected the whole world also may have changed the course of sports betting in California.

The tribal initiative that appeared on its way to making the ballot got derailed by the pandemic putting a halt to signature-gathering efforts.

At the same time, legislators saw an opening to renew legislative efforts with California facing a $54 billion budget deficit. Without holding discussions with tribal leaders, Dodd and Gray filled out their bills with implementation language.

The amendments authorized retail and online CA sports betting for tribal casinos and racetracks. Cardrooms were not given sports betting but were offered legal clarity on the games currently offered at their facilities.

Back to that hearing in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, tribal leaders vehemently opposed the measure and said they will not compromise on their position on the legality of the games played at cardrooms. The card clubs and representatives of the regions they support all offered their support.

SCA 6 advanced through the committee by a 9-3 vote. Dodd pledged that there will be discussions with tribes and changes to address some of their concerns before the bill is brought up on the Senate floor.

The bill needed to pass by a two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House before summer break on June 19. There is a June 25 deadline for measures to make the ballot. Neither of these deadlines were met and the bill failed. 

Meanwhile, a tribal coalition is not giving up on their initiative and plans to file a lawsuit to receive more time to submit signatures.

2019

Gray had tried to get ahead of the overturn of PASPA by introducing the constitutional amendment in 2017. However, tribal interests weren’t willing to consider the matter until this year.

With many states having already legalized sports betting, Dodd and Gray began concerted efforts in June by introducing ACA 16 and SCA 6.

Although the bills merely included a ballot question to legalize sports betting in California, the lawmakers made clear their intent to begin discussions with industry stakeholders to fill out the details of how CA sports betting would be conducted.

Right before they planned to hold a hearing on the topic, tribes decided not to come to the table and instead introduced their own ballot initiative. The tribal initiative sought voter approval for legalizing sports betting in a limited fashion only at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks. Dodd told LSR that he believed the state needed a more inclusive measure that included online sports betting in California.

California sports betting FAQ

Is online sports betting legal in California?

No. Sports betting is illegal in all forms in the state of California. Californians overwhelmingly voted down Prop 27 in 2022, a bill that would have legalized mobile sports betting in the state.

Who would oversee sports betting in California?

The Bureau of Gambling Control within the California Department of Justice. Both measures on in 2022 identify this agency as the preferred regulator.

Will mobile CA sports betting be allowed?

Maybe. Proposition 27 was the closest California came to legalizing mobile sportsbooks, but the measure failed. Proponents of sports betting in the state are back to the drawing board on this one. Potential solutions could come via a tribal-led online initiative that includes in-person registration. But nothing is set in stone yet.

What is the legal gambling age in California?

The minimum age varies between 18 and 21. Some activities are broadly available to 18-year-olds, like horse betting and the lottery, but others require older patrons. Both of the most recent failed sports betting initiatives specified that bettors would have needed to be 21 or older.

Why do some sportsbooks appear to accept bets from the US? Are those legal options?

No. All US sportsbooks are licensed at the state level. Any website that purports to take wagers from anywhere in the United States is operating illegally. These sites offer no protection to those who bet on them.

How many casinos are in California?

The state is home to 66 casinos, all of them tribal. There are also numerous card rooms, but they operate in perpetual dispute from the tribes. In terms of being able to play most casino games, the only options in California are with one of the 66 tribal casinos. Some of the more prominent tribal gaming venues in the state include Ya’amava Casino Resort, Pechanga Resort Casino, Viejas Casino & Resort, and Cache Creek Casino Resort.

Other Sportsbook Offers

BETTING TIPS