Despite Tribal Exclusivity, Here’s How CA Card Rooms Can Spread Blackjack

Written By Cheryl Coward on November 15, 2023 - Last Updated on November 17, 2023
A picture of a blackjack game in progress for a story about how California card rooms found a way to spread table games without breaking state law.

Casino M8trix in San Jose is much like most of the larger card rooms in California. Besides offering several variations of poker, it also features traditional casino table games like blackjack, baccarat, Three Card Poker, Pai Gow, Casino War and progressive jackpots.

Despite its name, Casino M8trix is not a casino. You won’t find a slot machine anywhere on the premises. Smoke doesn’t fill the air inside, either. On the other hand, you will find 49 tables filled with California card players in a laid-back environment.

I recently visited Casino M8trix on a weekend evening. With regulators looking to stop blackjack being played at California card rooms and tribes wanting to close all of them in the state, I wanted to see how card rooms like Casino M8trix skirt the laws prohibiting casino gaming outside a tribal-run casino.

Card rooms under assault from tribes and regulators

There are nearly 100 card rooms in the state. Aside from sweepstakes-style poker rooms like Global Poker, California online poker is illegal, so card rooms and casinos are the only places that can offer legal card gaming. And even that is up for debate.

Tribes in California contend that they own exclusive gaming rights. In a recent op-ed, California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman James Siva says tribes seek a court ruling on whether “certain controlled games operated by California card clubs are banking card games that violate California law and infringe upon tribal exclusive gaming rights.”

Ironically, or maybe not, California gaming regulators are drawing up language banning blackjack from being played in card rooms. An early draft of the rules would specifically ban blackjack while leaving other casino card games like baccarat alone.

That wasn’t on the players’ minds in the packed Casino M8trix on the night I visited. There’s no doubt that owners and managers are thinking about it.

Card rooms use third-party vendors to comply with state laws

M8trix’s closest competitor, Bay 101 Casino, is less than a half-mile away. Despite the constant attacks, card rooms continue to thrive across California. They seem to be on solid ground when it comes to offering poker.

There is more clarity in the laws surrounding poker games. At the very least, California law enforcement isn’t raiding these card rooms for spreading poker games. Unfortunately for Texans, that is happening in the Lone Star State.

However, many card rooms in California also offer casino table games like blackjack. Casino M8trix and other card rooms seem to skirt state laws prohibiting them from offering house-banked games.

They use third-party vendors to pay winning bets and collect the losing ones. Thus, even though the players’ experience is the same, the operator doesn’t support the game.

This allows bettors to place wagers against the “house” without actually doing it. For now, regulators and law enforcement have allowed it. And with towns and cities enjoying the tax money collected from card rooms, they continue to protect these businesses’ right to exist.

Card rooms in California are estimated to generate over $2 billion a year in revenue.

Also, according to the California Cardroom Alliance, the facilities provide jobs for more than 23,000 people.

Casino M8trix is a thriving card room in California

No matter the hour, the parking lot at Casino M8trix always seems to be packed. Located near the San Jose airport, right off Highway 101, the card room sits on the bottom floor of a tower emblazoned with the venue’s neon red logo. It can be seen from blocks away, day or night. During the evening, the tower’s outer walls are aglow in lights that change color, making it easy to spot the facility.

On the night I visited, the parking lot was full, consistent foot traffic was in and out of the main entrance, and the casino’s main bar was busy. Even before 9 p.m., almost every table in the casino was full. The only blackjack table that wasn’t occupied was one set aside for special events. The poker tables were full, with people around them watching the games.

The card room’s website updates active games taking place at least hourly. So patrons can see the table activity before arriving. Limits range from $5 to $10 if you want to play blackjack.

The overall atmosphere of Casino M8trix resembles a laid-back lounge of patrons enjoying themselves. It’s a large cardroom that can seat nearly 400 players. Promos run throughout the week, including progressives that award players who top winning hands like a royal flush.

Casino M8trix does not allow smoking

Casino M8trix is a non-smoking facility. It has a spacious open layout, two bars and several dining options. That includes a sushi bar and a coffee house. Notably, the prices for coffee drinks like lattes and mochas are much cheaper than most cafes in the South Bay.

Flat-screen TVs are positioned around the casino and in the sports bar area so patrons can keep tabs on their favorite teams while gambling.

It would be a shame if Casino M8trix and other California card rooms were forced to close or quit offering blackjack.

Tribal casinos in the state already do pretty well. Don’t they?

Photo by PlayCA
Cheryl Coward Avatar
Written by
Cheryl Coward

Cheryl Coward is a contributor for PlayCA with a background in sports journalism. She started her career as a news reporter in Washington, DC. She’s a die-hard women’s basketball fanatic and founded the website as a result of that passion. She has extensive experience covering gambling and sports betting in California, including coverage of the Prop 26 vs. Prop 27 election battle.

View all posts by Cheryl Coward
Privacy Policy