Exploring the Best Casinos in California [Best Guide-2020]

An image showing coins used for playing poker

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hollywood, West Coast — you may often hear the names of these four areas in many references from pop culture. They all have one thing in common: California.

Known for its distinctive warm weather, breath-taking landscapes, and bustling metropolis, California (also known as The Golden State) is one of the West Pacific States of the United States of America (USA). With a total area of 423,970 km2, California ranks as the third-largest U.S. state, just after Alaska and Texas. It boasts amazing beaches, as the state is bordered by the Pacific Ocean in the west. On its east side stands the Sierra Nevada mountain range, while forests of fir and redwood are in its northwest region. It shares the Mojave Desert, North America’s driest desert, with southern Nevada.

It is the state that has the highest population, the 2018 estimate being around 39.6 million. Two of the state’s areas are second (Greater Los Angeles Area, around 18.7 million people) and fifth (San Francisco Bay Area, around 9.7 million people) on the list of the most populated urban areas. Since time immemorial, California has become a prime spot for immigration, which then led to it having roots in various cultures, the main ones being those of Asia, Latin America, Spain, and the eastern United States.

California’s economy is not something to be laughed at, either. With a gross regional domestic product (GRDP) of $3.0 trillion in 2018, it prevails as the world’s largest sub-national economy. In fact, if it were a country on its own, California would easily place as fifth-largest economy internationally, trumping over nations such as India, the United Kingdom, and France. Two of its main areas, the Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area, has earned their bragging rights as the United States’ second- and third-biggest urban economies (bringing in $1.253 trillion and $907 billion respectively in 2017).

A portion of this hefty annual collective income comes from the state’s extensive casino offerings. If you are a casino enthusiast who is planning on visiting the Golden State, with this guide, we will help you by discussing the best casinos in California.

Gambling in California

Unlike the glitzy casino resorts in Las Vegas, California offers both locals and tourists several homegrown establishments, some of them run by federally recognized Native American tribes. More than 60 tribes operate 69 casinos in California, to be exact. Although launching commercial casinos off tribal land is prohibited, you will find that the sheer number and size of already existing tribal casinos are more than enough to satisfy your needs.

For its land-based rules on gambling, those of the Golden State share similarities with those of other states, like New York. Local legislators have approved of live bingo; there is also a state-run lottery system. However, if you are more into online gambling, tough luck — it has not been legalized in sunny California yet.

You must be at least 18 years old to engage in casino gambling, but at least 21 years old to play at casinos that serve alcoholic beverages.

Two Kinds of Casinos in California

Virtually, there are two kinds of casinos that will greet you in the Golden State.

The first one is what’s commonly referred to as a card room. As the name suggests, the site’s main offering would be on table card games, such as baccarat, pai gow, blackjack, and poker. Card rooms are frequented by the locals in the area. Moreover, do not expect them to be overly expansive and luxurious — they are not casino resorts. Nevertheless, there are some casinos in California that offer hotel services and accommodations, should you want to take a vacation in the state.

The second kind is the one that offers a wider variety of games, which includes, but is not limited to, blackjack, roulette, slots, video poker, and other well-known table and machine games. These are the ones that are more commonly located on Native American lands.

However, you should know that in California, the use of dice and balls are prohibited, so these casinos found ways to get around this rule, mainly by using playing cards instead. For roulettes, rather than having a ball spin on the table, the croupier has the roulette wheel spin while slapping the playing cards. You will have to bet on whichever card you think the wheel would stop on. The winner is disclosed once the card is drawn. A round of craps is administered with playing cards as well in the place of dice. The croupier flips the cards, imitating a “roll” of a pair of dice, and the game continues as it regularly does.

Another striking difference between card rooms and Native American casinos is the existence of game fees in the former. Card rooms place fees for the games they offer; commonly, per $100 wager, there is a $1 table game fee. This means that for both wager values of $25 and $100, you would have to pay $1 each. Moreover, if you raise your stake to $200, the fee would be $2, and so on. These fees are the casinos’ main source of revenue, for they do not gain from any of the players’ losses. On a financially brighter side, Native American casinos do not charge you of any kind of additional fees for their games.

Now that we have covered the casino types you will most likely see in the Golden State, let’s explore some of the best casinos California has to offer. You should note, however, that all of the casinos listed below are 21-and-above establishments, meaning you need to be at least 21 years old to enter the casinos.

1. San Manuel Casino- Highland, San Bernardino

An image of San Manuel Casino
San Manuel Casino

When you’re coming from downtown Los Angeles or the LA-Ontario International Airport, a short drive will lead you to the San Manuel Casino. Managed by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, this casino stands as California’s largest and the nation’s fourth-largest casino. Its 220,000 square feet of gaming area boasts offerings of more than 4,700 slot machines, plus more than 100 table games and 200 video poker machines. Over 8.3 million guests annually frequent the casino, which is open for 24 hours every day. Since 1986, the San Manuel Casino has seen its players claim over $2 billion in prizes, cash, and giveaways.

As of a 2018 expansion report, visitors and casino patrons will have the option to stay at the casino’s onsite luxury hotel. Furthermore, the establishment offers a vast selection of dining options, ranging from steakhouses to fast-food and even buffets.

2. Agua Caliente Casino and Hotel- Rancho Mirage, Riverside

An image of Aqua Caliente Casino
Agua Caliente Casino and Hotel

Established in 2001, the Agua Caliente Casino presents a total gaming space of 71,000 square feet, perfectly fitting its many slots, table games, and video poker machines. It is operated by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of the Riverside County. The casino is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The casino features “the area’s only private live poker room and high-limit gaming in an upscale, private atmosphere.”

There is a hotel that features 340 rooms, comprised of 314 deluxe guestrooms, 24 executive suites, and 2 presidential suites. “The Show,” its inhouse entertainment venue, has a seating of 2,028 people. The casino also features different restaurants, such as The Steakhouse, Waters Café, and Wet Bar.

3. Harrah’s Resort Southern California — Valley Center, San Diego

An image of Harrah's Resort
Harrah’s Resort Southern California — Valley Center

Harrah’s Resort Southern California (Harrah’s Resort SoCal) is a casino and hotel establishment owned by the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians and managed by Caesars Entertainment Corporation. From its opening in 2004 up until 2014, it was formerly known as Harrah’s Rincon. Its 59,000 square-foot casino floor houses more than 1,600 slots and 61 table games and is open 24/7.

Harrah’s Resort SoCal also gives you a chance to apply for a casino credit which allows you to retrieve a personal gaming checking account without any interest or fees. The establishment can get your casino credit ready even before you arrive so that you can dive into gaming as soon as you get there.

If you plan on checking in to the casino’s hotel, you will be pleased to know that the hotel’s three towers present more than 1,000 rooms you can check in to. The resort has several water-based leisure spaces, such as a lazy river, the main pool, daybeds, cabanas, and even a swim-up bar.

4. California Grand Casino — Pacheco, Contra Costa

An image of California Grand Casino
California Grand Casino — Pacheco

Starting off our card room list is the California Grand Casino, known as the world’s “oldest continuously operating poker room,” having its beginning since 1854.

The California Grand Casino offers poker games, blackjack, and baccarat; it also holds weekly Texas hold ‘em tournaments with no limits. Their main poker games are reported to have paid over $24 million to their players. These games also feature what’s known as three blinds, which refers to when the player positions a blind bet while on the button. Consequently, more players would see both the flop and more action in these games. Like with the other casinos in California, the CGC is open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

5. Bay 101 Casino- San Jose, Santa Clara

An image of Bay 101 Casino
Bay 101 Casino — San Jose

Bay 101 Casino is another card room on our list that’s been around since the late 1920s. Like other card rooms in the Golden State, Bay 101 Casino hosts poker games and daily tournaments across its two-floor casino gaming space containing 49 card tables. This casino is open every day for 24 hours.

An annual World Poker Tour tournament dubbed as Shooting Star is a tournament created by the casino owner Marko Trapani in 1997, and this is perhaps the most notable thing about Bay 101. The tournament is held every March. The casino offers players at all tables a 24/7 food and beverage service, giving them a convenient and enjoyable gaming experience. In addition, there are different in-house dining choices that you could choose from.

6. Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino- Gardena, Los Angeles

An image of Larry Flynt's Hustler Casino
Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino

Going south for about 15 minutes from Downtown Los Angeles will bring you to Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino, owned by — you guessed it — Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine. It’s been operating for almost 20 years now.

Open for 24 hours every day, this card room has more than 50 tables dedicated for poker games (three-card, pai gow, Texas hold ‘em, and Big O), as well as over 30 tables for baccarat, blackjack, and other table games. There are daily and weekly tournaments you could join when you visit the Hustler Casino. It has also been said to be the home of California’s “largest seed progressive poker jackpots.”

Moreover, the Hustler Casino greets you with their dining options: Larry Flynt’s Bar & Grill, Coco’s, and Corky’s Snack Bar. For sure, your taste buds will be satisfied with their wide assortment of culinary delights.

Conclusion

California is one of the most well-known states in the U.S. Over the years, many people have been attracted to either visit or move to it.

If you are a casino enthusiast who’s planning to visit the sunny Golden State, you will be pleased to know that California’s casino scene is as alive as that of its neighboring state, Nevada. There are two main classifications of casino establishments in California: card rooms and Native American casinos. The former focuses more on card and table games, while the latter offers both table games and machine games.

Although there are hundreds of casinos scattered across the state, we have enumerated some of the best casinos California has to offer. We hope this guide has helped you arrange your itinerary for a future visit to the Golden State and remember to always practice responsible gambling.

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