California Poker Tournaments 2022: Where To Play?

California isn’t exactly poker-friendly when it comes to legislation, but you can still find a surprisingly large number of real money poker tournaments around the state. The trick is knowing where to look.

There are two types of establishments where you can legally play poker and participate in tournaments throughout the year: card rooms and tribal casinos.

California card rooms provide tournaments all the time, attracting expert and novice poker players. At these locations, you can find high-stakes and beginner-friendly tournaments daily. Generally, card rooms host their tournaments in the evenings and offer affordable buy-ins.

Alternatively, tribal casinos are more likely to host tournaments over the weekend more than during the week. Tournament pools tend to have lower maximum limits in comparison to card rooms, although no-limit tournaments sometimes pop up.

Overall, there are tons of excellent poker tournaments to enjoy as you tour California’s different poker locations. Below we break it all down for you in more detail.

Poker Tournaments At California Card Rooms

California has 66 total card rooms currently operating throughout the state, with the majority of these clustered around major California cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. There were once hundreds of card rooms throughout the Golden State, but 1995 legislation made it illegal for new card rooms to open.

California card rooms are legal because of a loophole in the legislation. California doesn’t allow gamblers to play poker when they are in direct competition with the house, at least when it concerns real money. To get around this, card rooms typically have players take turns acting as the dealer or standing in for the house. This means that games progress a little more slowly than at fully legal gambling locations like Las Vegas.

However, the arrangement allows card rooms to persist even with California’s generally anti-gambling legislation.

Most California card rooms offer major poker varieties like Texas Hold ‘Em and Omaha Hold ‘Em, although plenty of others also offer poker games like Seven-Card Stud.

To play in any card room in California, you need to be at least 18-years-old in accordance with California law. Most card rooms require that you put up some money to buy-in to various tables. Newcomers can look out for card rooms that offer free, beginner-friendly games to teach new poker players the ropes.

Some of the best California card rooms for poker include:

The Bicycle Hotel & Casino

This card room offers a ton of different Cal games and traditional poker varieties. It has a rich history and is a stop for the World Series of Poker (WSOP), which occurs from November to December every year. The WSOP tournament draws extremely talented players and is great for playing and watching in equal measure. Viewership alone can get up into the hundreds of thousands.

The Bike also includes a seven-story hotel, a few other gaming opportunities, and live entertainment venues.

Bay 101

This card room is well-known for the experience and professionalism of its dealers. It’s a fantastic stopover poker place if you ever fly into the San Jose airport, and it’s pretty close to the San Francisco Bay Area as well. Tons of different Hold ‘Em games are available, with levels averaging several hundred dollars on most days.

Commerce Casino

One of the largest card rooms in the world, this card room hosts the LA Poker Classic. This annual tournament is held from January to March, and it’s actually the longest-running poker tournament series in all of Los Angeles. Promotions vary every year, with pools running upwards of $100,000 in many cases.

Poker Tournaments At Indian Casinos

California’s Indian casinos are also an excellent place to scratch your poker itch. These casinos operate because they’re technically not on California soil. Instead, they stand on sovereign Indian ground, so they aren’t subject to the same types of gambling laws.

As a result, Indian casinos and resorts offer all the gambling activities you’d expect at a Las Vegas counterpart while still technically being within California borders. Many of the best resorts host poker card rooms of their own or may allow you to play poker on open floors. It all depends on the layout of a given establishment.

One of the nice things about Indian casinos is that many of them feature private poker tables that can be reserved ahead of time. Using these, you’ll be able to set up a private poker tournament for you and your friends or set up high-stakes games if you and your fellow poker enthusiasts want to make things interesting.

Another advantage that Indian casinos have over traditional card rooms is that they’re more often paired with exquisite hotels, luxurious spas, and restaurants. Staying at one of these casinos is a true vacation experience, and it still lets you play all the poker you like. The downside is that most Indian casinos feature far fewer poker tables than even the smallest card rooms.

You do need to be 21-years-old to enter the majority of tribal casinos and thus participate in their poker tournaments.

There are several top-tier Indian casinos that feature poker rooms and tournaments:

Thunder Valley Casino Resort

Thunder Valley is one of the best Northern California tribal casinos in the state. It’s just outside Sacramento and encompasses almost 250,000 ft.². There are 2,800 slot machines, but more importantly, there are 114 gaming tables. You’ll be able to play live poker 24 hours a day, plus enjoy excellent restaurants and a fantastic hotel at the same location.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa

At this phenomenal Southern California Indian casino, you can take advantage of 150,000 ft.² of gaming space, which includes a dedicated poker room that offers 13 reservable private tables. Other amenities include several restaurants, a hotel, and 2,700 slot machines.

Pechanga Casino

Pechanga offers fantastic daily tournaments. These occur Monday through Saturday, with generally low buy-ins. Many of these daily tournaments feature guaranteed prize pools ranging between $2,000 and $10,000 depending on the tournament.

Some of the daily tournaments are pretty creative. For instance, if you play the “Breakfast Club” tournament on Monday through Friday for one hour between 5:00 am and 8:00 am, you’ll get a free meal.

California Poker Tournaments FAQ

Why do you need to be 21-years-old to play poker at tribal casinos compared to 18-years-old for card rooms?

This is actually more of a generalization instead of a hardline requirement. The truth is that tribal casinos can set their own gambling age limits because they are technically on sovereign Indian territory. Most tribal casinos set their minimum age of entrance to 21-years-old, but there are some exceptions.

They set the age limit to 21-years-old to prevent any underage drinking on their premises. Most tribal casinos serve alcohol on their open poker floors.

Who regulates the poker tournaments in California?

It depends. The National Indian Gaming Commission regulates the poker tournaments that occur in tribal casinos. Meanwhile, the California Gambling Control Commission regulates the poker tournament held by regular card rooms.

Can anyone enter California poker tournaments?

In most cases, yes. Anyone who has enough money for the buy-in rates can join. However, some tournaments may request that you be a member of the card room or another club in order to get into certain high profile or high-prize pool tournaments.

Are California poker tournaments usually suitable for beginners, or should you only join if you have experience?

Some tournaments are certainly beginner-friendly and are flooded with general poker enthusiasts instead of experts. Others are the opposite. It all depends on the tournament in question.

Are any winnings that you receive from a tribal casino poker tournament taxable?

Yes. Just because you earned the money on sovereign Indian territory doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t get reported on your taxes at the end of the year.

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.