Southern California Gambling: Best Casinos, Card Rooms & Race Tracks 2022

Southern California is one of the most unique regions in the entire country, featuring some of America’s most famous cities and most iconic tourist destinations. As it happens, it’s also a hotspot for gambling resorts and other activities. Below we will explore the types of gambling you can enjoy, and where you can do so, when you visit Southern California.

Southern California casinos are located in Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Imperial, San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernandino counties. 

Southern California Card Rooms

Card rooms in California are the only place you can play legal poker in person, aside from playing small games on private property. This is because players technically wager against one another. The dealer rotates after every hand. Card rooms themselves make a profit by taking a small fee from each person who participates.

Card rooms are excellent opportunities to either show off your poker skills or hone them even further. Some poker rooms are better for beginners and draw in crowds from all around the state. Others cater more to players with skill and may host a variety of professional tournaments. For instance, the Bike is a Southern California card room that sometimes doubles as a stop for the World Series of Poker.

Card rooms feature tables with a variety of buy-in limits and pool sizes.

Where To Play

Here are some of the top Southern California card rooms you can check out:

The Bicycle Hotel And Casino

This is arguably the most famous California card room thanks to its brush-ups with law enforcement over the years. These days, “the Bike” is a legit establishment that includes tons of poker games, plus a plethora of Cal Games with dramatically varying limits. Legends of Poker, a tournament series running since 1995, still runs here to this day. The Bike includes a seven-story hotel with live entertainment venues and other gaming opportunities.

Commerce Casino

The Commerce Casino is the largest card room in the entire world with over 270 poker tables. A 200-room hotel, an attached dining establishment, and more amenities make it a perfect place to stay to check out the greater Los Angeles area.

The casino also serves as the site for many major tournaments. Although it draws in plenty of skilled poker players, it’s also has a reputation for being beginner-friendly thanks to the poker-teaching classes it offers every week.

Hawaiian Gardens Casino

This casino is open 24 hours daily and includes over 150,000 ft.² of gaming space with over 220 tables. It includes a restaurant, cash games, massage services, auto shuffling machines, and cocktail services. 

Hawaiian Gardens is an all-inclusive resort and casino rather than a dedicated poker room, but this makes it a great fit for general tourists or casino fans who also want to brush up on their poker skills while on vacation.

Southern California Indian Casinos

While most forms of gambling are illegal in California, tribal casinos are legal, and they remain havens of gambling activity. This is because tribal casinos are technically on Indian land instead of California state government property. As a result, state gambling legislation does not apply.

This allows Indian casinos to offer most major gambling activities you would expect from a classic casino and resort. Social games or gambling activities for money like bingo, lottery games, poker, slot machines, blackjack, and any other electronic games are all available in different amounts or in different themes depending on the resort in question. Games are either regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission or by state authorities, depending on the type of game.

The tribal casino industry draws in over $8 billion of revenue every year, so each casino features its own theme and may add new areas or improvements from time to time. Southern California Indian casinos tend to emphasize LA or San Diego culture and iconography, featuring palm trees, movie imagery, and more. Lots of casinos emphasize their proximity to Hollywood and may include attached hotels. In this way, they serve as excellent resorts to stay at if you want to tour the greater SoCal area while also scratching your gambling itch.

Where To Play

Because of the generally warm and sunny weather that SoCal resorts enjoy, most Indian casinos in this region also feature pools or spas. Most SoCal resorts are around the LA, San Diego, or Riverside areas. Here are some of the best Southern California tribal casinos available:

Pechanga Resort Casino

This is actually the largest casino available in California, nearing 190,000 ft.² and including over 4,500 slot machines. There’s also a lot of other things to enjoy, including over 20 restaurants and bars, and a hotel that includes over 1,000 rooms. A 25,000 ft.² spa ensures you can relax as well as you can play while staying at this resort.

San Manuel Casino

This casino is currently set to add a new spa and hotel as early as 2021, and it’s one of the best resorts if you enjoy Asian or “Cal” games, like special variants of blackjack and other games. Several bars and restaurants are available in addition to its main gambling area.

Viejas Casino and Resort

Just 36 miles east of San Diego, this resort recently underwent remodeling in 2006 and now has a new high limit gaming area of over 15,000 ft.². It’s a great resort if you want to bet big and maybe win or lose it all. It also offers just about 1,000 slot machines, plus three hotels and a plethora of attached restaurants and bars.

Southern California Race Tracks

California has a particularly rich history with horse racing. There were even a few tracks open before full legalization in 1933. Horse race betting became legal when tracks came to a pari-mutuel business model, meaning that players wager against one another. The tracks themselves make a profit by taking a small cut of overall pools.

Where once there were many more racetracks throughout the state, now there are only four major racetracks at which major derbies and other races are held. However, Southern California arguably has the better part of this deal, as three of the four major tracks are located in the southern half of the state. This means horse racing enthusiasts have options within driving distance of one another, plus access to some of the best horse racing facilities in the state.

Where To Go

Below are some the best Southern California horse racing tracks around:

Santa Anita Park

This race track, opened in 1907, has played host to major racing legends including Seabiscuit. The one-mile natural dirt track and 9/1o of a mile turf course holds races through the early fall, winter, and spring seasons. More interestingly, the park is home to hillside turf course (one of the few you can find in the entire country). In 2007, the park also introduced a new cushion track with synthetic elements mixed with dirt. Tons of excellent facilities and amenities make it a great place to watch races for enthusiasts and tourists alike.

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

Also called the Del Mar Fairgrounds, this 1936 race track now has a mile-long racecourse and has been the site of many high-stakes races, like the Pacific Classic Stakes in the 90s. The turf course was widened in 2014 and the main track was renovated for added cushioning for the horses’ safety. Tons of graded events are held every year, and the overall Fairgrounds host plenty of other entertainment venues and activities like a hat contest, Friday night concerts, and “Family Fun” days.

Los Alamitos Race Course

This track hosts both thoroughbred and Quarter Horse races. It also provides high-stakes Quarter Horse races with purses totaling over $1 million. Legally opened in 1951, it’s one of the most modern racecourses in existence. It doesn’t host as many graded events as the other tracks, but its proximity to Los Angeles makes it a popular tourist destination and a great place for horse racing enthusiasts to stop by while touring LA.


Southern California Gambling FAQ

Why are so many gambling institutions concentrated in Southern California?

It’s mostly because many famous Californian cities are located in the southern half of the state. Los Angeles and San Diego are just two of the biggest metropolitan areas in the Golden State, so they’re naturally good places for gambling sites to stake a claim.

How old do you have to be to gamble at Southern California locations?

Technically, the legal gambling age is 18-years-old. However, you need to be 21-years-old to enter many Indian casinos because of alcohol restrictions.

Can you find sports betting in Southern California?

No. Sports betting technically isn’t legal, although tribal casinos may bring brick-and-mortar sports betting to their casino locations in the next few years.

Is online gambling legal in California?

Not really, with the exception of daily fantasy sports and online horse race betting. The former is only technically legal because there isn’t a law explicitly forbidding it. 

How are Southern California gambling activities regulated?

Most are regulated by state authorities, although tribal activities are regulated by the NIGC.

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.