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What are the Illegal Gambling & Gaming Laws?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Feb 25, 2022

California Penal Code 330 PC makes it a crime for engaging in gambling, also known as “gaming,” by use of a “banking or percentage game.

Social poker games are completely legal in California, along with other socially played games of chance, skill, and strategy that involve individual bets.

Illegal Gambling & Gaming in California - Penal Code 330 PC
Penal Code 330 is the statute used to charge someone with the misdemeanor crime of illegal gambling.

But when a "bank" or "house" gets involved in the exchange of funds or takes a "rake," it becomes a crime under the category of illegal gambling and gaming.

A banking game occurs when a house collects money from people who lose and then pays the winners.

A percentage game is described as a game of chance where the house collects money calculated as a portion of the bets made.

California's gambling laws make it a crime for someone to deal, play, carry one, open, or conduct any prohibited game, whether for hire or not.

If you are convicted of running, dealing, operating, or playing in such a game, you could face misdemeanor penalties of up to $1000 in fines and up to 6 months in jail per count. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review this topic further below.

What Constitutes Illegal Gambling in California?

PC 330 makes it a crime to conduct any game involving betting that involves a "bank" or a "percentage." The law explicitly lists specific games such as rondo, twenty-one, faro, monte, roulette, and others.

Still, the definition extends to "any banking or percentage game played with cards, dice, or any device, for money, checks, credit, or other representative of value." For purposes of the law:

  • a "banking game" is any game where a bank or house collects from the losers and uses the money to pay the winners; and
  • a "percentage" game is when the house takes a "rake" or percentage of the bets for profit.

The movie Molly's Game offers a good illustration of the difference between legal and illegal gaming. The poker games in the film were played for high stakes, but they didn't become illegal until the main character decided to take a rake to protect her losses.

Under PC 330, anyone who participates in illegal games in any way, whether as owner, operator, employee, or player, may be charged with a crime. You don't have to gain anything of value or win money to be guilty of illegal gaming. You need to play the game knowing that there is a "bank" or "rake" on the game.

What are the Penalties for PC 330?

As noted, illegal gambling is a misdemeanor in California. You can face fines between $100 and $1000 and up to six months in jail if you are convicted. However, judges often take mitigating circumstances into account and may impose summary probation as an alternative to jail time.

Getting an expungement is possible for anyone convicted under this law after serving their time in jail, if any, or completing probation.

If you are convicted under Penal Code 330 PC, it will not affect your ability to own or possess a firearm because it's a misdemeanor offense.

What are the Exceptions to Illegal Gaming?

In certain situations, banking and percentage games are not considered illegal in California, and those who participate will not be charged with a crime. These include:

  • Charitable organizations (e.g., churches and humanitarian nonprofits). Charitable organizations can run games like bingo, raffles, and poker to raise money for their charitable functions.
  • Casinos on tribal lands. PC 330 does not apply to gaming institutions run by Native Americans on tribal lands.

What are the Related Crimes?

Illegal gaming often occurs in context with other crimes, including:

  • Bookmaking (Penal Code 337a PC): the actions of a third party in taking and paying off bets in illegal gaming enterprises;
  • Obtaining Money by Gaming Fraud (Penal Code 332 PC): using gaming devices as a method of defrauding people;
  • Solicitation/Prostitution (Penal Code 647a): while not directly linked to illegal gaming, prostitution enterprises often happen simultaneously with or within illegal gambling operations;
  • Illegal Gambling Businesses (18 U.S. Code § 1955): it's a federal crime to own, operate, finance, or manage an illegal gambling business in the United States.

What are the Legal Defenses for Illegal Gambling?

Charges of illegal gambling and gaming can often be overcome with a skilled legal defense. If you're charged with this crime, your attorney may be able to use any of the following common arguments in your defense.

You were not playing or running a banking or percentage game. Gambling in and of itself is not a crime in California. For gambling to be illegal, it must be a prohibited banking or percentage game where a rake was taken—and that's what prosecutors must prove. Your attorney may be able to argue that you were involved in a social game of poker or other betting game where no bank or rake was taken.

Defenses for Illegal Gambling
There are several defense strategies we can use to fight PC 330 illegal gambling and gaming charges.

You did not know there was a bank or rake on the game. It is not a crime to participate in an illegal banking or percentage game unless you knew it was one at the time.

Your game fell under a legal exception. For example, suppose you can show you were participating in or running a charity gambling event to raise money or that your game took place on tribal grounds under tribal authority. In that case, you can demonstrate that you were not violating the law.

Illegal search and seizure. Even if the police had reason to suspect an unlawful gambling operation, they must still abide by the rules of search and seizure and probable cause. If the police violated the rules with a warrantless search without justification, any evidence they gather is inadmissible at trial—and your attorney may be able to use this information to have your charges reduced or dismissed.

If you have been accused of illegal gambling in violation of Penal Code 330 PC, you should reach out to our law firm to discuss the details and legal options.

It might be possible to negotiate with the prosecutor and law enforcement detectives to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges in the first place (DA reject), which is called prefiling intervention.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a Los Angeles-based criminal defense law firm representing Southern California, including Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside, and San Bernardino. You can contact us for an initial consultation by calling (310) 328-3776 or filling out our contact form.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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