California isn’t exactly poker-friendly when it comes to legislation (poker fans and California sports betting hopefuls can bond over that), but you can still find a surprisingly large number of real money poker tournaments in California. 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 Indian casinos.
The best Indian casinos in California 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.
California card rooms provide cash games and 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.
Overall, there are tons of excellent California poker tournaments to enjoy betting as you tour the state’s best poker locations. Below we break it all down for you in more detail, as well as the best legal online poker option in California.
Best Online Poker Tournaments in California
If you’re looking for legal online poker tournaments in California, Global Poker is without a doubt the way to go.
No, it’s not a real-money poker site — none of those are legal in California. However, tournament players can still redeem cash prizes through the promotional sweepstakes model — where the currency they play with isn’t real money but can be redeemed for cash prizes and gift cards.
Global Poker has daily tournaments, as well as occasional weeks-long or month-long promotion events. Weekend tournaments usually feature a bigger pot, and daily events are most often low-commitment Sit’N’Go tournaments.
Best legal online poker site in California
Excellent variety of poker tournaments to play
Redeem winnings for cash prizes and gift cards
Payouts can lag
Southern California Poker Tournaments
Here are some of the best regular poker tournaments in Southern California. These are often concentrated near Los Angeles and San Diego.
|Commerce Casino||Commerce||Usually 2-3 tournaments in morning, afternoon, and evening Monday-Friday|
Usually 1-2 tournaments Saturday and Sunday
|Buy-ins range from $125 to $600, so there's a tournament for several levels of poker player|
|Hollywood Park Casino||Inglewood||Monday, Tuesday: 10 a.m., 6 p.m.|
Wednesday, Thursday: 6 p.m.
Friday, Saturday: 10 a.m.
|Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday: $100|
Monday, Tuesday: $120
|Hawaiian Gardens||Hawaiian Gardens||Wednesday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.||Wednesday, Thursday: $130|
|Ocean's 11 Casino||Oceanside||Every day at 10 a.m.; an occasional extra evening tournament||Monday-Friday: $75|
|Jamul Casino||Jamul||Monday: 10 a.m., 6 p.m.|
Tuesday: 10 a.m., 6 p.m.
Wednesday: 10 a.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m., 6 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m., 4 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m., 6 p.m.
Saturday morning: $40
Saturday evening: $100
Sunday morning: $80 Sunday evening: $125
|Sycuan Casino Resort||El Cajon||Wednesday: 6 p.m.|
Friday-Sunday: 10 a.m.
|Agua Caliente Casino Rancho Mirage||Rancho Mirage||Monday: 9 a.m.|
Tuesday: 9 a.m., 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday: 9 a.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m., 6:30 p.m.
Friday-Sunday: 9 a.m.
|Monday-Friday 9 a.m.: $100|
Tuesday, Thursday 6:30 p.m.: $120
Saturday, Sunday: $150
|Hustler Casino||Gardena||Wednesday-Friday: 7 p.m.|
Saturday-Sunday: 3 p.m.
|Larry Flint's Lucky Lady Casino||Gardena||Monday, Friday: 5 p.m.|
Saturday-Sunday: 1 p.m.
Bay Area Poker Tournaments
Here are some of the best regular poker tournaments in Northern California. These are often concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Jose.
|Casino M8trix||San Jose||Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: 6 p.m.||Monday: $170|
|Bay 101 Casino||San Jose||Monday-Wednesday: 12:45 a.m., 9:30 a.m.|
Thursday, Friday: 9:30 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m.
|Buy-ins range from $65 to $490|
|Graton Resort & Casino||Rohnert Park||Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 10 a.m.|
Tuesday, Thursday: 6 p.m.
|19th Hole Casino||Antioch||Saturday, Sunday: 12 p.m.||$60|
|Livermore Casino||Livermore||Sunday: 9 a.m.||$240|
|Lucky Chances Casino||Colma||Wednesday, Friday, Sunday: 9:30 a.m.||Wednesday: $180|
|Bear River Casino||Loleta||Monday, Wednesday, Sunday: 6 p.m.|
Sunday: 3 p.m.
Poker Tournaments at California Card Rooms
Although 84 have licenses, there are 59 total California card rooms currently open and 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, but 1995 legislation made it illegal for new card rooms to open.
California card rooms offer cash games and tournaments, and they are legal because of a loophole in CA 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, so they’re betting against each other. This means that games progress a little more slowly than at fully legal gambling locations like Las Vegas.
Then, to make money, the card rooms charge the players a fee for using the establishment. This is also known as the rake. This arrangement allows card rooms to persist even with California’s anti-gambling legislation.
Most California card rooms offer major poker game varieties like Texas hold’em and Omaha hold’em, although plenty of others also offer poker games like seven-card stud.
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
The Bicycle Hotel & Casino 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, which has 185 poker tables, also includes a seven-story hotel, a few other gaming opportunities, and live entertainment venues.
Bay 101 Casino
Bay 101 has 49 poker tables and 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.
The largest card room in the world with 270 poker tables, Commerce Casino 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.
Hollywood Park Casino
With 125 poker tables, the card room at Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood is one of the biggest in the state. It hosts daily poker tournaments Monday-Saturday, with some Sunday tournaments sprinkled in there, too.
Hawaiian Gardens Casino
Also called The Gardens Casino, Hawaiian Gardens is one of California’s premier card rooms. It offers Texas hold’em and Omaha hold’em, as well as a variety of other poker variants, including blackjack, pai gow, and EZ baccarat. It boasts a total of 225 tables, with 110 dedicated to poker.
Poker Tournaments at California Indian Casinos
California Indian casinos are also an excellent place for playing poker. 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.
You do need to be 21 years old to enter the majority of tribal casinos and thus participate in their poker tournaments. However, there 15 California casinos that allow 18-year-olds and one of those has a poker room — Morongo Casino Resort & Spa.
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.
There are several top-tier Indian casinos that feature poker rooms and tournaments:
Thunder Valley Casino Resort
Thunder Valley Casino Resort is just outside Sacramento and encompasses 270,000 square feet. There are 3,400 slot machines, but more importantly, it has 27 poker tables, which is more than many card rooms in the state. You’ll be able to play live poker games such as Texas hold’em 24 hours a day, plus enjoy excellent restaurants and a fantastic hotel at the same location. It’s one of the best Northern California casinos in the state.
The Thunder Valley poker room plays host to the WSOP Circuit’s Northern California tournament every fall.
Morongo Casino Resort & Spa
At Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, you can take advantage of 150,000 square feet of gaming space, which includes a dedicated poker room that offers 20 poker tables. Other amenities include several restaurants, a hotel, and 4,000 slot machines. Morongo is the only 18+ Indian casino in California with a poker room.
Sycuan Casino Resort
Sycuan Casino Resort has 15 poker tables, which usually feature four no-limit Texas hold’em tournaments every week. The buy-ins vary between $70 and $80, making these tournaments approachable for even novice players. Some poker tournaments in California never dip below a $100 buy-in.
Poker Tournaments California FAQs
Yes, California poker tournaments are legal. Some have an age limit of 21, and some have an age limit of 18. It depends on the venue. At these events, poker players play against each other, not the house, for prize money. That’s why it’s 100% legal.
Many of the state’s 66 Indian casinos have poker rooms. There are also 59 actively operating card rooms in California. Most of these establishments are 21+, but is one 18-and-over casinos that offers a poker room: Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon.
This is actually more of a generalization instead of a hardline requirement. The truth is that Indian casinos can set their own gambling age limits because they are technically on sovereign territory. Most set their minimum age of entrance to 21 years old, but there are some 18+ casinos in California. One, Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, has an open poker room.
Most casinos set the age limit to 21 years old to prevent any underage drinking on their premises.
It depends. The National Indian Gaming Commission regulates the poker tournaments that occur in Indian casinos. Meanwhile, the California Gambling Control Commission regulates the poker tournaments held by card rooms.
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.
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.
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.