The History of Poker—The Venues—California



California’s place in poker’s history is unshakeable. The “Golden State” of the United States not only has a long history with the game going back to the 19th century, but it is also one of the best places to play live poker worldwide today.

It offers some of the best action in the country. This article looks through California’s history, what makes it unique for poker, and the best venues to play in California today.


The history of poker in California starts in the 19th century during the gold rush era. While the game initially became popular in the port cities along the Mississippi river, it eventually found its home in the old west and became a famous game among the outlaws.

Over time, several card games were banned in the state. One of these games was “stud-horse poker,” and it was assumed that all forms of poker were prohibited by law. This remained the case until 1911, when the state’s attorney general ruled that “stud-horse poker” did not cover draw poker games. This de-facto made draw poker games instantly legal in the state.

Numerous card rooms started to appear throughout the state as the years went by, all offering stud poker. By the 1970s, Nevada and Las Vegas were becoming the poker capital of America, with many card rooms offering variations of stud poker like Texas Hold‘em. Not wanting to be left out of the lucrative new market, card rooms in California also started offering stud poker games.

A legal battle soon ensued between the card rooms and the state’s attorney general, who said only draw poker games are legally allowed within the state. There were many rulings, some in favor of the card rooms and some in favor of the state. This created different rules for poker in distinct jurisdictions of the same state.

By 1987, a landmark legal decision was made. In a case involving the Oaks Card Club, it was found that stud poker variants were not banned by any pre-existing legislature. In fact, the game called “stud-horse poker” prohibited by the initial ruling was not even considered a well-known variant of the game.

The ruling allowed card rooms and clubs in California to offer games like Texas Hold‘em and 7-card stud. Over the following decades, poker exploded, and California’s rooms became iconic venues in their own regard.

Most poker action is concentrated in Los Angeles in the southern part of the state and the San Francisco Bay Area in the northern region. The state also maintains a list of licensed card rooms that can be accessed by the public and has the best poker scene in the United States after Las Vegas.


Several things make California a unique place for poker. For example, it is home to the Commerce Casino, which is the largest cardroom worldwide and home to many venues that only offer poker. In addition, unlike Las Vegas, where casinos offer a wide range of games, most cardrooms in California are smaller and solely focused on one game.

Cities like Los Angeles, where the Commerce Casino is located, have become one of the most sought-after destinations for aspiring poker players. This is because the poker scene in the city is one of the liveliest worldwide, with no shortage of action.

In recent years, tournament poker has also started picking up steam in the state. Many WPT tournaments and WSOP events have taken place at notable venues like The Bike.


California is home to many iconic and notable poker venues. Here are some of the most popular places to play poker in the state:

  • Bicycle Casino (The Bike) (100+ poker tables)
  • Hustler Casino (50 poker tables)
  • Larry Flynt’s Lucky Lady Casino (18 poker tables)
  • Commerce Casino (150 poker tables)
  • Hollywood Park Casino (51 poker tables)
  • The Gardens Casino (184 poker tables)


Few other places in the world offer the quality and quantity of poker games as California. Home to some of the most iconic card rooms ever built and a lively live poker scene with a growing number of tournaments every year, it seems like California is destined to remain a mecca for poker players for the foreseeable future.