Even though gambling—from televised poker tournaments to slot machines at Native American casinos—is more popular than ever in America, many common card or dice games played for money are still illegal in California.
This section makes it a crime to engage in “banking” or “percentage” games.1
Unlike California's bookmaking law (Penal Code 337 PC) and gambling fraud law (Penal Code 332 PC), this law makes it a crime simply to play these games—even if you don't act as a “bookie” or commit fraud while you do so.2
What forms of gambling are illegal in California?
California Penal Code 330 PC makes it a crime to
- carry on,
- open, or
any “prohibited game,” whether for hire or not.3
Example: David is the owner of a “pai gow” parlor—a place where the Chinese dominoes game of pai gow is played for cash bets. The parlor makes money by taking a percentage of the winnings of every game that is played there.
Jing works for David. He joins in many of the games played at the parlor to make sure rules are being observed and winnings are being reported accurately.
Rachel enjoys playing pai gow and frequently plays at David's parlor.
Under Penal Code 330 PC, all of David, Jing and Rachel could be prosecuted for illegal gaming.4
A “prohibited game” means any game that qualifies as either:
- A “banking” game; or
- A “percentage” game.5
A “banking” game is any game in which there is a “house” or “bank” that participates in the game, collecting from the losers and paying the winners.6
A “percentage game” is any game of chance in which the “house” collects money calculated as a portion of bets made or total winnings.7
If a given game is not a banking or percentage game, then it is not covered by California Penal Code 330, and you are not guilty of illegal gaming for participating in or conducting it. (Interestingly, in California, whether a game qualifies as a banking or percentage game is a question for a judge, and not a jury, to decide.)
Example: Alejandro often conducts games of panguingui for cash bets at his house. (Panguingui is a gambling card game with origins in the Philippines.)
Acting as the dealer, Alejandro manually controls the “pot” in these games. But he does not set up a bank against which the players play, and he does not take a percentage of the bets or the winnings.
Thus, panguingui as conducted by Alejandro is not a banking or percentage game, and he has not violated PC 330.8
California's illegal gaming statute does list a number of specific games to which it might apply. These are:
- Rouge et noire;
- Twenty-one; and
However, the law will apply to any game that is conducted as a banking or percentage game.10
Is there an exception for bingo charity games?
There is an exception to the ban on banking or percentage games for certain bingo games conducted by charitable organizations for charitable purposes.11
A charitable bingo game will not violate the law if all of the following are true:
- The bingo game is conducted in a city or county that has passed an ordinance authorizing these kinds of games;
- The bingo game is conducted by a tax-exempt charitable organization (such as a church), a mobile home park association, a senior citizens' organization or a charitable organization affiliated with a school district;
- The proceeds of the game are only used for charitable purposes;
- No minors participate in the game;
- No one receives any profit, wage or salary from the game;
- The game is conducted on property owned by, leased by or donated to the charitable organization; and
- The game is open to members of the public.12
What are the penalties for illegal gaming?
Gaming is a misdemeanor in California law.13
The potential penalties are:
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation (which might include requirements like community service or attendance at a program for compulsive gamblers);
- Up to six (6) months in county jail; and/or
- A fine of at least one hundred dollars ($100) and no more than one thousand dollars ($1,000).14
Are there legal defenses against gaming charges?
According to Oakland gambling crimes defense lawyer Reve Bautista15:
“It's very common for people facing charges under Penal Code 330 to be completely new to the criminal justice system—about as far from ‘hardened criminals' as you can get. Many of them are terrified and are not aware of the full scope of their rights. But, in fact, there are many ways to fight these charges successfully so that you can get on with your life.”
One of the most common legal defenses to illegal gaming charges is that you were not actually involved in a banking or percentage game.
Remember that just playing cards or dice for money is not enough to violate this law. If there is no house distributing winnings or taking a percentage of the money played, then there is no violation of PC 330.16
Another possibility is that your arrest on gaming charges arose from an illegal search or seizure. If the police did not follow proper procedure, then evidence obtained from the illegal search may not be used against you.
Call us for help…
For questions about the crime of gaming under Penal Code 330 PC, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
1 Penal Code 330 PC – Prohibited games; punishment. (“Every person who deals, plays, or carries on, opens, or causes to be opened, or who conducts, either as owner or employee, whether for hire or not, any game of faro, monte, roulette, lansquenet, rouge et noire, rondo, tan, fan-tan, seven-and-a-half, twenty-one, hokey-pokey, or any banking or percentage game played with cards, dice, or any device, for money, checks, credit, or other representative of value, and every person who plays or bets at or against any of those prohibited games, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punishable by a fine not less than one hundred dollars ($100) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by both the fine and imprisonment.”)
2 Compare Penal Code 330 PC – Prohibited games; punishment, endnote 1 above, with Penal Code 337a PC and Penal Code 332 PC.
3 Penal Code 330 PC – Prohibited games; punishment, endnote 1 above.
4 See Sullivan v. Fox (1987) 189 Cal.App.3d 673 [holding that pai gow is a percentage game covered by PC 330].
6 Sullivan v. Fox, endnote 4 above, at 678. (“Banking game has come to have a fixed and accepted meaning: the “house” or “bank” is a participant in the game, taking on all comers, paying all winners, and collecting from all losers.”)
7 Same, at 679. (“We construe the language in section 330 referring to percentage game as encompassing any game of chance from which the house collects money calculated as a portion of wagers made or sums won in play, exclusive of charges or fees for use of space and facilities.”)
8 Based on the facts of People v. Ambrose (1953) 122 Cal.App.2d Supp. 966.
9 Penal Code 330 PC – Prohibited games; punishment, endnote 1 above.
11 Penal Code 326.5 PC – Bingo games for charity [exception to California's illegal gaming law].
13 Penal Code 330 PC – Prohibited games; punishment, endnote 1 above.
15 Oakland gambling crimes defense lawyer Reve Bautista spent over 20 years as a prosecutor with the Contra Costa District Attorney and the San Francisco District Attorney. As a result, she is well-known at every courthouse in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, she devotes her energy to helping protect the rights of criminal defendants in cases including illegal gaming and bookmaking.
16 Penal Code 330 PC – Prohibited games; punishment, endnote 1 above.