California Blackjack Casinos (Tribal vs Cardroom Games)

If you’re looking for information about California blackjack, there are two different things you might want to know. The first thing is how to play a variation of blackjack called California blackjack. And the second thing is blackjack in California.

You’re going to learn about both California blackjack the game and blackjack in California in this post. California has unique laws about gambling games like blackjack. The state has one set of laws for tribal casinos and another set of laws for other gambling businesses.

The blackjack game variation called California blackjack isn’t popular and isn’t found outside of the state. But this game is completely covered in the next section. So, if you ever run across this variation you know how it works.

California Blackjack Games and Laws

The conversation about California blackjack starts with the laws in the state. California gambling law states that casino games, including blackjack, can’t be banked by the house.

Here’s what the banking law means:

In most casinos, the casino or house banks the blackjack games. The dealer has chips and pays out winners and collects losses. But the law in California says the casino or house can’t back or bank the game.

But cardrooms in California figured out a way around this. The card rooms devised a way that players at the table can bank the game.

Roger Wisted created the original California blackjack game.

But the version Wisted created and marketed isn’t the only version players call California blackjack. Any game with the players banking the game can be called California blackjack.

At least two different sets of rules can be used in California blackjack games. Here’s information about both.

Roger Wisted California Blackjack Rules

The game Wisted created uses a six deck shoe, and each deck includes the standard 52 cards plus one joker.

Instead of players focusing on 21, a natural in this version of California blackjack is 22. A pair of jokers, a pair of aces, or an ace and a joker, forms a natural. And you can’t bust in this version of the game. The winning hand in this version of California blackjack is 22, or if you’re closer to 22 than the dealer’s hand, either higher or lower.

Other rules are the same as the rules used at casinos in other states. And the opportunity to bank the game moves around the table from player to player. In most card rooms, the opportunity to bank moves every two hands.

You never have to bank the game, but you should because you have a better chance to win when you bank. If you don’t have enough money to bank all of the other bets, the card room handles this another way.

Either another player banks the bets you can’t cover, or the casino contracts with a third party player to handle the extra bets. This player is called the corporation in some card rooms.

Other California Blackjack Variations

Another form of California blackjack uses a slightly different set of rules.

This variation uses 21 as the focus like other blackjack games. But two jokers, two aces, and an ace and a joker are still considered natural blackjacks. An ace and a 10 point card is still a blackjack, but these hands aren’t worth more than the other naturals.

Jokers are wild and when you have a joker your hand is worth 21 points.

Players can surrender on any hand unless the dealer has a joker showing. And if the dealer has a joker face down, players only lose their original bet.

How Casinos Make Money on California Blackjack

The next question is how do cardrooms make money from blackjack games they don’t bank? The answer is the card rooms charge a 1% fee or commission on every bet. But the commission is always rounded up, so any bet you make under $100 has a commission of $1.

Commission adds to the house edge. If you make $100 bets, the commission adds 1% to the house edge on every hand. And if you bet less than $100, it adds more to the house edge. And this is why California blackjack isn’t worth playing.

Blackjack Games in California

Now you know everything about the variation called California blackjack. The blackjack games found in card rooms not owned by tribes are all banked by players. And there are plenty of card rooms available in the state.

But most blackjack games in California are offered by tribal casinos. And the tribal casinos don’t have to follow the same rules as cardrooms.

I cover tribal casino blackjack in the next section. In many ways, tribal blackjack is better than cardroom blackjack. But tribal blackjack games still aren’t the best blackjack games in the US. However, they are the best blackjack games in California, unless you play online.

Online blackjack games in California have their own set of challenges. I cover these challenges in the online California blackjack section below.

Overall, California blackjack players don’t have many great options. If you play a few blackjack hands for fun now and then it’s ok. But if you’re a serious blackjack player, California isn’t your best option.

Tribal Casino Blackjack in California

The closest thing to blackjack games as you find in other states is the blackjack games in tribal casinos. In fact, the blackjack games in tribal casinos in California are the same as in other places, like Las Vegas.

The laws in the state dictating that cardrooms and casinos can’t bank games don’t apply to tribal casinos.

According to, there are 65 tribal casinos in California. So there are plenty of places you can play regular blackjack games.

The largest tribal casinos in California are:

  • Pechanga Casino in Temecula, CA has 189,000 square feet of gaming space.
  • Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln, CA has 144,000 square feet of gaming space.
  • Vejas Casino in Alpine, CA has 133,000 square feet of gaming space.
  • Cache Creek Casino in Brooks, CA has 74,000 square feet of gaming space.

You know how bad the player banked blackjack games are in California because of the commission. So, you probably think the blackjack games in tribal casinos are better.

Overall, you’re right. The blackjack games in tribal casinos are usually better than the player banked games in card rooms. But this doesn’t mean the games in tribal casinos are good blackjack games.

While you can find some blackjack games with decent rules in California tribal casinos, you can find better games in other states. See the section below about better options for California blackjack players.

Can You Play Online Blackjack in California?

Currently, California doesn’t have laws regulating online casino blackjack. Many states are legalizing online gambling, and California may do the same in the future.

Does this mean playing online blackjack in California is illegal?

Sadly, this isn’t an easy question. Many online casinos accept players from California. Some online casinos don’t accept California blackjack players. And the state doesn’t appear to be looking for people in the state gambling online.

The fact is I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t tell you whether it’s legal to play online blackjack in California. I recommend speaking to a gambling lawyer if you have questions.

You can play free online blackjack in California. So, if you’re concerned about the legality of online blackjack, stick with free online blackjack games.

A Better Option for California Blackjack Players

California blackjack isn’t a good option for casino gamblers. The commission makes the house edge too high. And tribal casinos don’t have much incentive to offer blackjack games with good rules. So, the house edge is usually higher than the games found in other states.

But you do have an option:

Las Vegas isn’t that far away from California. And some of the best blackjack games are found in Las Vegas.

Depending on where you live in California, you might be able to be in Las Vegas in an hour or two. And if you’re near a large city, you can probably find a flight to Las Vegas leaving soon.


California blackjack isn’t popular. And even if you run across a game using the California rules, you might not want to play. If the situation is right and you can bank the game a high percentage of the time, you might want to participate.

But cardrooms and casinos design games like this to make money. So the rules rarely favor you, even when you can bank the game.

In California tribal casinos, the blackjack games are like the blackjack games in most casinos. The casino bans the games and sets the rules.

Finding blackjack games with good rules in tribal casinos is difficult. But tribal casinos are your best bet for finding decent blackjack games in California.

Your best bet is taking a short trip to Las Vegas. Some of the best blackjack games in the world are in Las Vegas, and it’s not a long trip from most places in California.