Things can be a little confusing when it comes to how many Indian casinos are in California.
As of September 2022, the California Gambling Control Commission listed 67 casinos in California. However, one of those listed casinos — Sho-Ka-Wah Casino — is permanently closed. So, the most accurate tally is 66.
But that’s only counting casinos with Class III gambling. These are games of chance that gamblers would find in a Las Vegas casino. They include slots and table games where gamblers play against the house, like blackjack.
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Are there any other casinos that offer a different type of gambling?
Yes. Four, to be exact.
They offer what appear to be standard slot machines but are really well-disguised bingo games. These four casinos are California’s Class II casinos.
Class II gaming includes bingo and non-banked card games, but California’s Class II casinos only offer bingo. These bingo games are often electronic, so they can look like regular slot machines. The difference is that players gamble against other players instead of the house.
California Indian casinos can offer Class II games without having to negotiate a gaming compact with the state. Instead, tribes themselves regulate Class II gaming, with oversight from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC).
California’s Class II Casinos
California’s four Class II casinos are:
- La Jolla Trading Post Casino (76 slot machines)
- San Pablo Lytton Casino (1,500 slot machines)
- Winnedumah Winn’s Casino (100 slot machines)
- Hidden Oaks Casino (93 slot machines)
There are a few other mini-casinos that are attached to larger casinos. For example, Blue Lake Casino & Hotel has a gas station near its casino with a gaming lounge and convenience store. Morongo Casino Resort & Spa has a similar setup, but these attached services offer Class III slot machines.
Two of the tribes that own Class II casinos are allowed to offer Class III games, too. The La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians and the Fort Independence Indian Community of Paiute Indians of the Fort Independence Reservation (Winnedumah Winn’s) both have tribal-state compacts that allow them to offer Class III games.
The Lytton Band of Pomo Indians and the Round Valley Indian Tribes (Hidden Oaks) lack a tribal-state compact.
The Lytton Band of Pomo Indians owns San Pablo Lytton Casino, which is in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its facility began as a card room and grew into a casino with Class II gaming. The Lytton Band proposed expanding into a Class III facility in 2004 but later backed off, and the US Senate formally rejected the proposed growth plan in 2009. The Senate vote was part of a larger bill introduced by California Senator Dianne Feinstein to close a regulatory loophole concerning casino expansion oversight.
The Round Valley Indian Tribes own Hidden Oaks Casino. It opened in 2007 and is located on the tribe’s reservation in the northeast corner of Mendocino County.
Offering Class II Gaming Instead of Class III
There are a few reasons the remaining Class II casinos don’t offer Class III games.
La Jolla Trading Post Casino and Winnedumah Winn’s Casino are both in remote areas of California.
La Jolla Trading Post Casino is off Highway 76 near the Palomar Mountain State Park. Winnedumah Winn’s Casino is northwest of Death Valley National Park off Highway 395. Having fewer visitors reduces a casino’s revenue potential, reducing the amount of money that can be spent on dealers and Class III gaming infrastructure.
A Class III Vegas-style casino may not be economically feasible just outside of Death Valley or off Palomar Mountain.
These two locations also don’t have to go through state regulatory scrutiny to launch Class II facilities. California cannot prohibit tribal casinos from offering Class II games. So, Class II facilities have one less layer of regulation to navigate in opening a casino.
Neither location has publicly moved toward expanding into a Class III facility. The 2009 Senate vote could’ve had a chilling effect on Class II facilities that wanted to expand to Class III. However, all the vote did was ensure that all tribal casinos were funneled through the same regulatory scheme.
Is Class II Gambling in California Legit?
Californians are unlikely to see the state’s four Class II casinos become Class IIIs.
However, there’s nothing legally dubious about these casinos. They’re still regulated by a competent governing body. The Class II casinos don’t offer gambling products that they’re not allowed to offer.
The small difference in state jurisdiction over different types of gambling is one of the many factors that can affect how California casinos offer gambling. Horse tracks have their own rules and card rooms have their own legal quirks. In a complex and diverse industry, there’s a type of gambling that appeals to all kinds of gamblers.