Northern California Gambling: Best Casinos, Card Rooms, Racetracks

California is a state with mixed gambling history. These days, it technically allows all types of gambling in one form or another. However, the specifics of where and how you can enjoy these activities are heavily dependent on location and regulations. For instance, casino games are only legal at Indian casinos rather than resorts on state land.

Below we will break down the types of gambling you can enjoy in Northern California.

Northern California Indian Casinos

California tribal casinos are currently legal thanks to laws between the state and federal government and the Indian tribes who maintain various territorial pockets throughout the state. At the time of writing, 66 tribal casinos operate in California. Combined, they produce over $9 billion in revenue every year.

Additionally, California also has tribal-state gaming compacts with 12 other tribes, so more casinos are on the way.

Indian casinos do not follow the same gambling regulations that other gambling sites do within the state. Because of this, resort-goers can find most major gambling activities within these resorts, including casino games: blackjack, poker, electronic games, slot machines, lottery games, and bingo. Gambling activities are either regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission or state authorities.

Because tribal casinos draw so much revenue, casinos often feature distinct themes or special attractions or resorts. Northern California Indian casinos are largely positioned around Sacramento or the Bay Area, although a few stretch a little farther north. Most of these resorts may have themes revolving around wine country or the NorCal wilderness and mountains.

Be advised that you need to be 21 years old to enter most of the top Northern California tribal casinos. This is despite the fact that the legal gambling age in California is 18 years old. Many casinos require you to be 21 since they serve alcohol on their premises.

Northern California tribal casinos don’t currently allow sports betting, but that could change soon. Californians can vote for two sports betting initiatives in the November 2022 election: Prop 26, which would allow only in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and racetracks, and Prop 27, which would allow online sports betting.

Top Northern California Indian Casinos

Some of the best Northern California tribal casinos include:

Thunder Valley Casino Resort

Thunder Valley Casino Resort is just outside Sacramento and is one of the largest resorts in the entire state, featuring over 145,000 square feet of gaming space. It offers 3,400 slot machines and over 100 gaming tables plus options for bingo and live poker. Its hotel contains 400 rooms as well as a fine selection of excellent restaurants and other amenities. The casino is open 24 hours daily.

Table Mountain Casino Resort

Table Mountain Casino Resort is located north of Fresno. It recently opened, replacing the old Table Mountain Casino that’s still just 900 feet down the road. The new facility features 2,000 slot machines, 33 table games, and a high-limit room, as well as a 12-story hotel with 171 rooms.

Tachi Palace Casino Resort

This resort draws customers from all across the state, thanks to its expansive space and 45,000 square-foot concert venue. As a result, it’s a frequent location for entertainment tours and activities beyond regular gambling experiences. It also offers over 2,000 slot machines and a seven-table poker room. Other features include a 255-room hotel and spa along with nine restaurants for a variety of dining opportunities.

Biggest Casinos in Northern California

This list looks at number of slot machines first. If those numbers are the same for multiple casinos, then we consider number of table games.

1. Thunder Valley Casino Resort3,400 slot machines, 110 gaming tables, 50-table poker room, 270,000 square feet of gaming spaceLincoln
2. Red Hawk Casino2,500 slot machines, 75 table games, 7-table poker room, 88,000 square feet of gaming spacePlacerville
3. Cache Creek Casino Resort2,300 slot machines, 120 table games, 14-table poker room, 74,720 square feet of gaming spaceBrooks
4. Sky River Casino2,000 slot machines, 80 table games, 12-table poker room, 110,260 square feet of gaming spaceElk Grove
5. Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino2,000 slot machines, 40 table games, 73,000 square feet of gaming spaceCoarsegold
6. Table Mountain Casino Resort2,000 slot machines, 33 table games, 140,000 square feet of gaming spaceFriant
7. Tachi Palace Casino Resort2,000 slot machines, 21 table games, 80,000 square feet of gaming spaceLemoore
8. Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort1,700 slot machines, 32 table gamesJackson
9. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sacramento1,500 slot machines, 55 table games, 62,000 square feet of gaming spaceWheatland
10. Eagle Mountain Casino1,200 slot machines, 11 table games, 3-table poker room, 450-seat bingo hall, 70,000 square feet of gaming spacePorterville

Northern California Card Rooms

California offers some of the best card rooms in the entire country. California card rooms are legal because they have players bet against one another instead of the house. The card rooms themselves make their profit by charging players small fees to enter games. Dealers rotate with every hand.

Most California card rooms include staple poker varieties like Texas hold ’em and seven-card stud, although you can also find additional games depending on the location. Additionally, most California card rooms offer “Cal Games”, which are card games with rules tweaked to ensure their legality under California legislation. Cal Games include blackjack, pai gow, Chinese poker, and more.

Many of the best card rooms in the state also offer tons of California poker tournaments for both beginners and experts. This draws plenty of traffic, especially at more popular card rooms. Tournament buy-ins and pools can range from the tens of dollars up to the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

All players need to be 18 years old to legally gamble in a California card room.

Best Card Rooms in Northern California

There are 59 card rooms currently operating in California. Here are some of the best you can find in Northern California:

Bay 101 Casino

Bay 101 Casino is located at the south end of the San Francisco Bay in San Jose, CA. It’s a great choice thanks to its proximity to the San Jose airport, making it a prime stopover destination for travelers who get a poker itch. It offers a variety of poker games and tournaments, and frequently draws experienced crowds to offer moderate-to-high-skill poker action.

California Grand Casino

This casino is actually the oldest continually operating poker room in the world, as it’s been offering poker since 1854. It served as a stagecoach and Pony Express stop before becoming an explicit casino. Weekly tournaments and Cal Games are included, like blackjack, pai gow, and three-card poker for even more variety. The casino was moved into a new and modern building in 2009, so it offers fresh amenities and plenty of creature comforts.

Capitol Casino

This casino is a relatively simplistic entertainment venue without a lot of bells and whistles, but it offers plenty of excellent poker action. It also offers excellent restaurant and bar options, so it’s a good place for general entertainment and enjoyment. It draws crowds from all over the Sacramento area and offers daily and weekly tournaments.

List of Northern California Card Rooms

Card RoomAddressCity
Artichoke Joe's Casino659 Huntington Ave.San Bruno
Bay 101 Casino1788 N 1st St.San Jose
California Grand Casino5988 Pacheco Blvd.Pachedo
Capitol Casino411 N. 16th St.Sacramento
Casino 99175 E. 20th St.Chico
Casino Chico968 East Ave.Chico
Club Casino (Club)1885 Hilltop Dr.Redding
Casino M8trix1887 Matrix Blvd.San Jose
Club San Rafael721 Lincoln Ave.San Rafael
Garlic City Club8630 San Ysidro Ave. #100Gilroy
Limelight Card Room1014 Alhambra Blvd.Sacramento
Livermore Casino3571 1st St.Livermore
Lucky Chances Casino1700 Hillside Blvd.Colma
Magnolia House Casino11275 Folsom Blvd.Rancho Cordova
Napa Valley Casino3466 BroadwayAmerican Canyon
The Nineteenth Hole7071 Airline Hwy.Tres Pinos
Oaks Card Club4097 San Pablo Ave.Emeryville
Ocean View Casino709 Pacific Ave.Santa Cruz
Palace Card Room22821 Mission Blvd.Hayward
Parkwest Casino 580968 North Canyons Pkwy.Livermore
Parkwest Casino Cordova2801 Prospect Park Dr.Rancho Cordova
Parkwest Casino Lotus6010 Stockton Blvd.Sacramento
Parkwest Casino Sonoma5151 Montero WayPetaluma
Rogelio's, Inc.34 Main St.Isleton
The Saloon at Stones Gambling Hall6510 Antelope Rd.Citrus Heights
The Tavern at Stones Gambling Hall6508 Antelope Rd.Citrus Heights
Towers Casino115 Bank St.Grass Valley

Northern California Racetracks

Horse race betting in California is one of the few types of wagering fully legal at in-person locations and online apps. Horse racing was legalized in 1933 using a pari-mutuel model. In short, this meant that bettors wager against each other while the horse racetrack facilities take a small cut of the overall pool in order to make a profit.

Most Northern and Southern California horse racetracks emphasize thoroughbred races, although you can find quarter horse races at a few select tracks. There used to be many more tracks in general, but the overall decline in attendance and several other factors have resulted in only a few major California horse tracks remaining open today.

Those who enjoy horse betting can make straight and exotic bets depending on a track’s offerings. You’ll also be able to find 27 satellite locations that offer off-track horse race betting if you don’t want to use a mobile app. There’s only one really excellent Northern California horse racetrack compared to the three you can find in the southern half of the state:

Golden Gate Fields Racetrack

Golden Gate Fields is a 140-acre horse racetrack located in Berkeley, right next to the San Francisco Bay. As a result, attendees benefit from expansive views of the local Bay Area and generally pleasant weather all year round. It’s also the only major thoroughbred racetrack in Northern California.

Golden Gate Fields features a 1-mile synthetic track and a turf course that measures 9/10 of a mile. It can fit thousands of customers and features on-site parking for visitor convenience. Horse betting enthusiasts will enjoy several graded events that are held every year, including the Berkeley Handicap, San Francisco Mile Stakes, and California Derby.

Admission is always free for children. There are plenty of comfortable facilities for both regular attendees and for those who are part of various clubs. Guests are even able to meet jockeys and see horses at the paddocks. The location is convenient since there are tons of hotels and dining options fairly nearby.

Northern California Gambling FAQs

What is the legal gambling age in Northern California?

As with Southern California, it depends on the activity in question. California’s gambling age is 18. However, you have to be 21 years old to enter some Indian casinos because of alcohol restrictions.

Why does Northern California have fewer gambling locations than Southern California?

This is largely because of the higher concentration of large metropolitan areas in the southern half of the state. Big cities like Los Angeles and San Diego have naturally drawn more gambling locations over time, making Southern California gambling a bit busier with more options.

Are Northern California gambling institutions regulated differently?

No. State authorities and the National Indian Gaming Commission are responsible for regulating all gambling institutions in California. They hold all institutions to the same standards.

Can you bet on sports in Northern California?

No. Sports betting technically isn’t legal, although it will be after the November 2022 election. Californians will vote between two sports betting propositions: Prop 26, which would allow only in-person sports betting at tribal casinos, and Prop 27, which would allow online sports betting. Check out our California sports betting voter guide for a full breakdown on each prop.

What counts as Northern California?

For the purpose of this article, we define Northern California as anything north of Fresno. Big metropolitan areas in Northern California include the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento.

How many card rooms are in Northern California?

As of August 2022, there are 24 card rooms operating in Northern California.

About the Author

Amber Hoffman

Amber is the Managing Editor of California Casinos. She writes for a variety of websites in diverse industries, including gaming and travel and is a fan of international football (not "soccer") and Gaelic sports.