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 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 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 as you tour the state’s different 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
For legal online poker tournaments, the only option in California is Global Poker. It’s not a real-money poker site. Instead, it’s a promotional sweepstakes site that allows players to redeem certain digital currency for real cash prizes. That’s why it’s fully legal in California, even though real-money online poker isn’t.
Global Poker has daily tournaments. Weekend tournaments usually feature a bigger pot, and daily events are most often low-commitment Sit-N-Go tournaments. Use our Global Poker bonus code to get 20 free Sweeps Coins for signing up.
Best legal online poker site in the US
Excellent variety of poker games to play
Exchange winnings for real cash prizes
Customer service leaves something to be desired
Poker Tournaments at California Card Rooms
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 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. 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 arrangement allows card rooms to persist even with California’s 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.
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 also includes a seven-story hotel, a few other gaming opportunities, and live entertainment venues.
Bay 101 Casino
Bay 101 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, 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 51 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.
Poker Tournaments at California Indian Casinos
California 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.
You do need to be 21 years old to enter the majority of tribal casinos and thus participate in their poker tournaments. However, there 13 California casinos that allow 18-year-olds and six of those have poker rooms.
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, there is a 27-table poker room, bigger than many card rooms in the state. You’ll be able to play live poker 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 13 reservable private tables. Other amenities include several restaurants, a hotel, and 4,000 slot machines. Morongo is one of the six 18+ Indian casinos with poker rooms.
Pechanga Resort Casino
Pechanga Resort Casino offers fantastic daily tournaments in its 42-table poker room. These normally occur Monday through Saturday, with generally low buy-ins. However, the poker room is temporarily closed.
In normal times, 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 Monday-Friday for one hour between 5-8 a.m., you’ll get a free meal.
Sycuan Casino Resort
The 11-table poker room at Sycuan Casino Resort usually features 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.
Southern California Poker Tournaments
Here are some of the best daily and weekly poker tournaments in Southern California.
|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
Bay Area Poker Tournaments
Here are some of the best daily and weekly poker tournaments in the Bay Area.
|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|
California Poker Tournaments FAQs
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.
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.
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.