Northern California Gambling: Best Casinos, Cardrooms & Race Tracks

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

Tribal casinos are currently legal in California 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, 63 tribal casinos operate in California. Combined, they produce over $8 billion in revenue every year.

Legality And Revenue

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, bingo. Gambling activities are either regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission or state authorities.

Because tribal casinos drawing 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 is 18-years-old. Many casinos require you to be 21-years-old since they serve alcohol on their premises.

Northern California tribal casinos don’t currently allow sports betting, but may bring in brick-and-mortar sports betting over the next few years.

Where To Play

Some of the best Northern California tribal casinos include:

Thunder Valley Casino Resort

This casino is just outside Sacramento and is one of the largest resorts in the entire state, featuring over 145,000 ft.². It offers 2,000 slot machines and over 100 gaming tables plus options for bingo and live poker. It’s 17-story tower hotel contains 297 rooms as well as a fine selection of excellent restaurants and other amenities. The casino is open 24 hours daily.

Table Mountain Casino

This casino is located north of Fresno. It’s actually due for a renovation, as it was built in 1987. It’s going to be replaced by a larger casino and hotel over the next few years. At the moment, it offers over 2,000 gaming machines, 10 poker tables, and a plethora of other table game opportunities.

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.

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.

Games Available

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 California card rooms also offer tons of 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.

Where To Play

There are 66 card rooms currently operating in California. Here are some of the best you can find in Northern California:

Bay 101

Bay 101 is located at the south end of the San Francisco Bay in San Jose, CA. They’re a great choice thanks to their proximity to the San Jose airport, making them a prime stopover destination for travelers who get a poker itch. They offer a variety of poker games and tournaments, and frequently draw 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 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 they offer plenty of excellent poker action. They also offer excellent restaurant and bar options, so it’s a good place for general entertainment and enjoyment. They draw crowds from all over the Sacramento area and offer daily and weekly tournaments.

Northern California Race Tracks

Horse racing is one of the few types of wagering fully legal in California at in-person locations and online horse racing 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 track facilities take a small cut of the overall pool in order to make a profit.

Most Northern and Southern California horse racing tracks 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 racing 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 racing track compared to the three you can find in the southern half of the state:

Golden Gate Fields Race Track

This 140-acre horse racing track is 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 one-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 racing 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 FAQ

What is the legal gambling age for gambling activities in Northern California?

As with Southern California, it depends on the activity in question. Gambling in general is legal only for those 18-years-old or older. However, you have to be 21-years-old to enter some Indian casinos because of alcohol restrictions.

Why does Northern California seem to 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.

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 find sports betting opportunities in Northern California?

No. Sports betting is technically illegal. However, new legislation may allow Indian casinos to bring brick-and-mortar sports betting to their casinos.

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.

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.