The news and politics of poker

  1. 2008-01-13 02:52:38

    WTF is the law on poker games in California?

    I wasn't at the now-infamous busted freeroll tournamnet (thank God), but now I'm really curious: just what is the law on playing home poker games in CA? My current understanding is that it's legal as long as no one is on the take, i.e., all monies payed by players must be available to win back.

    But is that really the long and the short of it?

    I found a summary of California's gambling laws here, but I have no idea what it all means, so I'm asking the hive mind for some help. Any lawyers out there care to weigh in?

    Posted by Ethan at 2008-01-13 02:52:38

Comments on “WTF is the law on poker games in California?”

    • anonymous
    • How does all this apply to poker game commonly being held in almost every country club in California? Obviously they are private clubs and membership fees are for golf. They do not take any rake, but they do play for money, some big some small. I have not found any law that applies specifically to this situation, but it is very common. Additionally non-profit organizations such as Rotary Clubs have poker games commonly.

    • avatar for Jason M
    • Hey Belinda, thanks for the update. That's similar to what happened to the players who were charged when our game was busted up. It's just a big waste of time and money...

    • anonymous
    • BTW, today three people were charged by the Deaprtment of Justic in connection with cheating at the Turlock Poker Room. I have yet to find out their names, but it's supposed to be in tomorrow' paper.

    • anonymous
    • No lying. Why would I? My posting was only meant to help others out so they don't find themselves in the same predicament we were in. The case has been resolved with an agreement that a small security fee be paid to the court in exchange for them dropping charges. It took two years of going to court to get to that point. The attorney's made their money but it cost tax payers a bundle.

      There were PLENTY of witness to the event so there's no need for me to lie. Hilmar, CA is where this happened. Nice people you are calling people you don't know names and suggesting they are either lying or stupid.

      I read the law prior to the bust and we totally believed we were within the law. ALSO, dealers from the Turlock Poker room would come out and play with us. If it were illegal I'm sure they would not have risked their jobs playing with us.

      As far as it being in a private home, read it again, it was in the detached garage/shop, and, we were lied to as to who these two were and what they wanted. We welcomed them in because they claimed they were sent over by someone else. They were polite and stated they were just in town dealing with a family business situation and wanted to play. Seeing as how they didn't appear to be gang bangers, but simply guys from out of town dealing with a family situation we let them play.


    • anonymous
    • You know I agree with the above answer you do deserve what you get with that poker game situation because the only answers to that is naiveness which is not an excuse or you were prophiing in some way shape or form I think there is more to this story and enough with the B.S. posting or blogging on sights like these for legal purposes is a waste of time the D.A. or law enforcement do not take the time to look at these any way. Your lying about something period.......

    • anonymous
    • I stand corrected. The law was amended in 2003. Note section "D" in the penal code below:
      (e) (1) As used in this section, "controlled game" means any poker
      or Pai Gow game, and any other game played with cards or tiles, or
      both, and approved by the Department of Justice, and any game of
      chance, including any gambling device, played for currency, check,
      credit, or any other thing of value that is not prohibited and made
      unlawful by statute or local ordinance.
      (2) As used in this section, "controlled game" does not include
      any of the following:
      (A) The game of bingo conducted pursuant to Section 326.3 or
      (B) Parimutuel racing on horse races regulated by the California
      Horse Racing Board.
      © Any lottery game conducted by the California State Lottery.
      (D) Games played with cards in private homes or residences, in
      which no person makes money for operating the game, except as a

    • anonymous
    • I hate to break it to you all, but a home game in California is illegal. A "controlled" game includes poker and any other card game. It is a misdemeanor and punishable up to 1 year in jail or $10,000.00 fine or both. It doesn't matter if you are charging a fee or rake. However, "Joe Average Citizen" is small potatoes for law enforcement. You would have to be really stupid and invite "outside" players (non-friends), to your home game. You might then "win the lottery" and have a narc at your game.

    • avatar for Jason E.
    • All I got, was that "JEWS," are still being persecuted. ;)

    • anonymous
    • would have all the information that you are looking for

    • avatar for Tony Gags
    • All I got from that article is as long as you are not having a "controlled game" which poker is not, or profiting from your game poker in your home weather you invite people or someone walking down the street says can I play is legal. Jesus life nits ftw

    • anonymous
    • So you were holding a "private" poker game in your residence and two guys nobody knew came by and wanted to join the party and you invited them in! At this point it was no longer a "private" poker game.

      Either you were routinely running a public poker operation and bringing in all comers (in which case you deserve to be arrested) or this was the first time people showed up and said "hey, we were in town and we heard there was a game on" and you let them in. In which case you should have been arrested for being just plain fucking stupid....

      For a good interpretation (from a lawyer) of California Law with regard to private poker see

    • avatar for Jason M
    • Disclaimer: My comments are based on a lot of reading and discussions with knowledgeable people, but I wouldn't take my word for it if I were you. To be careful, my recommendations are on the conservative side.

      @ANda: I think a small game (size does not matter) at a business is not legal, rake or no rake. However, it may be considered an extension of your property. I wouldn't worry about it, but I think it is technically illegal.

      @Roger: I think the "poker parties" and such charge an entertainment entrance fee (which does not directly correlate with poker chips) and then you can play casino games and collect tickets that go into a raffle. I doubt they have real cash games. I think that's how they get around it.

      Private parties in non-business locations that do not take a rake are legal, as far as I know. This is based on what I've heard first-hand from police (in California).

    • anonymous
    • I see advertizements all the time for poker parties and casino nights held in large rented facilities. Corproate and business parties, birthday parties, receptions ect? What about those?

      Are private parties exempt?

    • anonymous
    • What about holding a small game game ,with no rack, at the clubhouse of our Homeowners Association? Senior citizens in mobile home park that has clubhouse or senior neighborhood that has clubhouse/pool?

      Is that a business or extension of our property?

    • avatar for Jason M
    • AFAIK, non-controlled home games are as legal as they can be, but not in a place of business. i would be careful.

    • anonymous
    • I'm in California and I play poker with friends after I close my business but only once a week for $5 buy-in, then if they want to, $10 then $20. This is hold-em non-tournament, people can stop playing anytime they want to. No money for prizes or food, you take whatever you win. I tried to look all over online to see if this is legal and no luck, they say it's legal as long as it's not a controlled game, and no rakes. I don't take rakes, and I have no idea what a controlled game is. Any suggestions?

    • anonymous
    • I'm familiar with the poker game that Belinda was referring to. I also know that the Turlock Poker Room owner was responsible for sending in the Police. Silly. Most of the people in that game never went to his room anyway, and I know that now there are more that swear never to go in there again because of this.

    • anonymous
    • That's exactly why I have no sympathy for the police officers any more at all- they cater to businesses and politicians and it doesn't matter whether your legal or not - once they got you in court, a dozen Jews get to make money off your asses (lawyers, judges, court system staff, towing co's, etc., etc...

      It IS bullshit. What's worse, YOU as taxpayers are PAYING FOR THIS SERVICE !!

    • avatar for Jason M
    • ridiculous. the situation you described, belinda, is exactly what the police officers said is totally legit. what the hell?

    • avatar for Ethan
    • Wow, thanks for the info Belinda. What happened to you and your family is terrible. Have you contacted the Poker Player's Alliance? They may be able to help you out.

      Just one more example of law enforcement wasting time and money, not to mention wrecking people's lives over something that is, in fact, legal.

    • anonymous
    • Over a year ago a poker game in a detached garage/shop in Merced County was busted by the State of California department of gaming.

      No pot raking, all funds went directly as prizes. Thursday nights family, friends would get together. The wives made snacks or purchased pizza.

      One night two guys showed up claiming the were in town taking care of some family business and their cousin told them they could come by and play. They were welcomed in. We knew we weren't doing anything wrong because we had read the state law on poker games. The posted prize board clearly showed the prize pool and anyone who knows basic math could see there was NO raking and no "house" fee what-so-ever, yet, these guys (undercover) came back in later in the evening and along with about 8 other agents in swat type gear "busted the illegal poker game" as the newspaper said.

      Huh? You say you're okay if the house doesn't make money" Bull crap. It's been over a year and 4 of my family are still going to court over this. They have to sit in a courtroom with guys who are there for kidnapping, robbery, drug dealing, assault and battery. You don't want to go through that. Your wives and kids don't want to see you in that situation.

      Makes you wonder what the heck the DA's office is complaining to the public about when they talk about being overloaded with cases and having to let bad guys walk because they are over worked with cases.

      The owner of Turlock Poker room will file a complaint against ANYone playing a game of poker in which he isn't getting a cut. If you play poker do not think you can somehow divert funds in anyway to pizza, utilities, drinks or snacks. You would be in even worse trouble than we are.

      We made darn sure funds paid to play went totally into the prize pool and we still are going to court for violation of section 337j.

      You all should be aware of this case and you should pass this information on to everyone you know. Oh yes, another thing that's VERY important. Raking or not NEVER hold a poker game, NOT even with you mother, brother and Godfather in ANY business. If you have a pizza parlor, video store, real estate office even after hours. Do not hold a poker game in a building business or non-residence. If a shop or a farm out building has it's own address separate from your home you are violating the law.

    • avatar for Jason M
    • Yeah, I think so. You just have to keep it separate. Right now I err on the side of caution, though.

    • avatar for Ethan
    • So by that logic, could Bert argue that his $5 fee was just a cover charge for food and drink, and that it was never part of a buy-in? Seems a bit shaky, but then so does the other side's argument.

      I suppose that's why good records are key.

    • anonymous
    • kl's comment about taking a buck from the pot to pay for pizza would under no circumstances be okay.

      I'm not a lawyer, (although I did go to Law School). But I've been involved in the cardroom industry in California for a number of years.

      For it to be legal, there has to be a specific distinction between funds for the game, and funds for something else (like food). There would be nothing wrong with having a private party that has a cover charge, and there happens to be a poker game going. (Make it a written rule that the 'party' has a cover charge at the door to pay for food and drink, regardless of your activities for the evening.)

      If you take $55 to play poker, and leave $50 for the prize pool, it's illegal, regardless of your stated intent for the 'rake'. (Remember, many cardrooms provide free meals... it's just considered a promotion.)

      On the matter of withholding money for future payouts, uzjedi is right: have good records and make sure the intent to payout that money is well documented beforehand, during, and after the series.

    • anonymous
    • In that case I would think detailed records and receipts would be all you would need to make sure you are covering your bases.

    • anonymous
    • That makes sense. But what if you take $5 from each buy-in and put it in a fund that you pay out as prizes? Say for bounties or the top 5 players or a free tournament at the end of the season?

      It seems like it should be legal, since you're paying out all the money you took in, but what would a DA say about it?

    • anonymous
    • Social home games are legal in California so long as there is no rake or fee taken for the game. If there's a rake, then it's considered a card club and you must have a gaming license. Those are quite hard to get, and the municipality must also allow the cardroom to exist.

      In essence, if you're in a licensed card club you're fine. If you're getting together once a week at somebody's house, you're fine... and you probably won't even get hassled if you take a buck out of each pot to pay for the pizza. If someone is making money on the game's existence, it's an unlicensed card club.

    • anonymous
    • that's what one of the friendly officers told me today, it's only illegal if there's a "cover charge".

    • avatar for Jason M
    • Cool, I'm gonna go read that. Just a note - those sections appear to be links, but that's just the wiki rendering messing up. We'll fix that :)

    • anonymous
    • It is pretty confusing, but the relevant sections would appear to be 337j (a),(b),(e). 330.11 seems to exclude poker from the restrictions above it in the document, but not below it. Not sure if Section 30 applies here.