California Criminal Defense Blog

With the exception of the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, there’s a major sporting event every day of the year in this country. Whether your favorite sport is football, basketball, baseball, hockey, or even golf, there is always a game to watch. Sports fans know that this means there is no shortage of opportunities to make their favorite team’s matches a little more exciting.

The question is: Is it legal to place bets on sporting events in California?

A Complicated Answer (PC 337(a))

legal to gamble on sports in California

It is not legal to gamble on sports in California.

The legal authority that controls betting on sports is a tangled web of federal and state laws. Though many states allow casino gaming and have state lotteries, gambling on sports exists in its own tightly controlled legal world.

First, there is a difference in the law between the person placing the bet and the person accepting the bet. The law is not the same for both parties in many states. In California, it is not illegal to make a bet, but it is illegal to take a bet, or operate as a bookie under California Penal Code Section 337(a).

In 1992, the federal government passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a law that prohibited sports betting in all but the four states where it was already legal: Delaware, Montana, Oregon, and Nevada. Congress controls interstate commerce, so it can prevent states like California from passing laws that would legalize betting on sports.1

The Online Picture

Another federal law, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, makes it a crime for an online operator of a gambling website to accept bets using money from residents of the United States, but does not make it a crime to place those bets. The federal government has already won legal battles against offshore casinos like PokerStars, which was ordered to pay $547 million in a settlement with the U.S. government in 2012.2

There are still a number of offshore companies that have found creative ways to avoid running afoul of the federal law, but the risk for bettors is always that the site they use could be shut down before they can collect any winnings.

However, there is also an exception in the UIGEA for simulated games such as fantasy sports leagues. If the bet requires “knowledge of the participants, or their skill at physical reaction or physical manipulation (but not chance), and, in the case of a fantasy or simulation sports game, has an outcome that is determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of sporting events,” the bet is legal.3

Point Shaving and Bribery of Officials

There are a couple of areas where the law is definitely clear. Under California Penal Code Section 337, it is illegal for any person to bribe a participant in any sporting event to “not use his or her best efforts to win.” In other words, it is illegal for a person and an athlete to agree to rig the outcome of a game, and both the person and the athlete can be punished by a term in state prison and by a maximum fine of $5,000.

The same holds true for a person who bribes a referee or umpire, and for the referee or umpire who accepts the bribe. In those cases, the person and the official can be fined up to $10,000, and sentenced to a term in either county jail or state prison.

Is My March Madness Pool Illegal?

March Madness pool illegal

Participating in a March Madness pool involving money is illegal in California.

With all these restrictions, you are probably left wondering whether buying squares in a Super Bowl pool or a betting on a bracket in the NCAA basketball tournament is going to be something for which you can be sent to jail.

The truth is, though taking bets is illegal, enforcement of the law against individuals or even small groups of people is extremely rare because most bets between friends only result in the winner making money, and not a person taking a cut of the winnings for organizing the bet. In fact, it is not unheard of for these types of pools to spring up even in the offices of district attorneys, who are more concerned with breaking up large-scale operations that have links to organized crime than your bet with your friends.4

Contact the Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich to Learn More

Have questions about whether your gambling is violating the law? An experienced Wallin & Klarich attorney can help. We have been successfully defending people facing criminal charges for over 30 years. Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation and let us help you, too.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich attorney near you, no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.


1. [Mark Anderson, “Odds Too Long for California Sports Betting Bill,” Sacramento Business Journal, June 4, 2013, available at: http://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/news/2013/06/04/california-sports-betting-bill-fails.html.]
2. [Nathan Vardi, “PokerStars Will Pay $731 Million To Settle U.S. Government Charges and Buy Full Tilt Poker,” Forbes, July 31, 2012, available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2012/07/31/pokerstars-will-pay-547-million-to-settle-u-s-government-charges-and-buy-full-tilt-poker/.]
3. [Chris Smith, “Why Is Gambling On Fantasy Football Legal?” Forbes, September 19, 2013, available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/chrissmith/2012/09/19/should-gambling-on-fantasy-football-be-legal/.]
4. [Daniel Roberts, “Was My Sports Bet Legal?” Fortune, February 15, 2011, available at http://fortune.com/2011/02/15/was-my-sports-bet-legal/.]

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