‘Pent-Up’ Gamblers Flock To Outdoor California Cardrooms, Revenues Spike

Posted on September 23, 2020 - Last Updated on October 7, 2020

More California cardrooms are reopening as coronavirus conditions continue to improve in counties throughout the Golden State.

Towers Casino in Nevada County, the northeast part of the state, opened Tuesday for indoor gaming at 25% capacity.

Towers joins Casino Club in Redding as the only cardrooms permitted to operate indoors under the state’s tiered reopening blueprint.

Other cardrooms in the state are making do by opening outdoors, following guidelines issued by the state earlier this month. Two prominent Bay Area cardrooms, Bay101 and Casino M8trix in San Jose, recently commenced outdoor gaming.

Representatives from two early adopters of outdoor gaming spoke with PlayCA about making the transition.

California cardrooms prospering with outdoor gaming

When Stars Casino in Tracy became the first California cardroom to offer outdoor gaming on Aug. 8, CEO Emmanuel Macalino expected it to make 60% to 70% of previous revenues.

To his pleasant surprise, the cardroom posted 120% of its revenue from the previous year during its first month of outdoor operations.

“Being the first to open really gave us a boost,” Macalino said. “That put us on the map. We’re one of the smaller card rooms and being able to pull the trigger on opening first really helped us with revenue.”

Most importantly, Macalino said the cardroom was able to put its full workforce back to work without any reports of a customer or employee coming down with COVID-19 since the reopening.

Brad Samuel, head of marketing for mid-sized cardrooms Stones Gambling Hall in Sacramento and Seven Mile Casino in San Diego, agreed that interest in outdoor gaming has been high since they reopened a month ago.

“It’s been busy and it keeps getting busier. There seems to have been a strong, pent-up demand with people to get out, have a bit of fun and do it safely. We feel very fortunate now to be open and be busy and have the community really embrace what we’re doing.”

Challenges of operating gaming outdoors

Moving gaming tables and setting up outdoors is the easy part. Cardrooms operating outdoors have found some difficulty dealing with the weather conditions.

Over the first month of operations, the cardrooms faced bad air from wildfires, intense heat with triple-digit temperatures, and wind. Stars shut down for a couple of days when the smoke level got high.

It also strategically placed windbreakers to block the winds that can reach 20 to 30 miles per hour.

Seven Mile Casino contracted with one of the companies that does tents for the Oscars to provide shade. Even though they are outdoors, the cardroom also added large air conditioning units to pump in cool, fresh air to address the heat and smoke.

“The challenges of being outdoors are just purely environmental,” Samuel said. “If it’s a little extra smoky or windy, what do you do? Every day you learn something new and take it into the next day.”

Stars found some of the state guidelines on outdoor operations to be unnecessarily burdensome. Particularly the requirement to have 3-foot high barriers to keep wayward vehicles out of the gaming area while allowing for airflow.

The barriers at Stars are higher than 3 feet, but airflow isn’t an issue with the area winds.

Macalino asked cardroom attorney Keith Sharp to seek clarification on the barriers, hand sanitizing stations versus hand-washing stations, and the washing of paper chips.

Counties moving on up colored tiers

California has 58 counties. When Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced his blueprint for the industry reopening at the end of August, 38 counties were in the most restrictive purple tier. That total is now down to 25.

Cardrooms must wait until they fall into a specific tier in order to reopen indoors at reduced capacities. The tiers are based on coronavirus positivity rates in the county. There are four different color-coded tiers.

If the cardroom is in a county that reaches the orange tier (2-4.9% positivity rate), it can reopen at 25% capacity. If the county reaches the yellow tier (less than 2% positivity rate), cardrooms can reopen at 50% capacity.

Eleven counties are in the orange tier, up from eight. Over the three weeks, no additional counties have joined the three in the yellow tier that permits 50% capacity.

Stars’ San Joaquin County, Stones’ Sacramento County, and Seven Mile’s San Diego County all are far off from the orange tier. But when they do reach that level, expect the cardrooms to move indoors while continuing to operate outdoors for a larger capacity.

According to Macalino,

“We are considering a hybrid operation. A lot of our players and guests really love the outdoor setup. But I think just for practicality purposes we need to go back indoors when allowed. In California, people love the outdoors and I think having that option is great.”

This table shows which California cardrooms are open and the tiers of their counties:

CardroomCountyTierIndoorsOutdoors
Livermore CasinoALAMEDARedNN
Oaks Card ClubALAMEDARedNN
Palace Card RoomALAMEDARedNN
Parkwest Casino 580ALAMEDARedNN
Casino 99BUTTEPurpleNN
California Grand CasinoCONTRA COSTAPurpleNN
Kelly'sCONTRA COSTAPurpleNN
Nineteenth HoleCONTRA COSTAPurpleNN
Clovis 500 ClubFRESNOPurpleNN
Club One CasinoFRESNOPurpleNN
North Coast CasinoHUMBOLDTOrangeNN
Tommy's Casino & SaloonIMPERIALPurpleNN
AviatorKERNPurpleNN
Diamond Jim'sKERNPurpleNN
Golden West CasinoKERNPurpleN8/12
Bicycle CasinoLOS ANGELESPurpleNN
Club CaribeLOS ANGELESPurpleNN
Commerce CasinoLOS ANGELESPurpleNN
Crystal CasinoLOS ANGELESPurpleNN
Hawaiian Gardens CasinoLOS ANGELESPurpleNN
Hollywood ParkLOS ANGELESPurpleNN
Hustler CasinoLOS ANGELESPurpleNN
Larry Flynt's Lucky Lady CasinoLOS ANGELESPurpleNN
La Primavera Pool Hall & CaféMADERAPurpleNN
Club San RafaelMARINRedNN
Golden Valley CasinoMERCEDPurpleNN
Banker's CasinoMONTEREYPurpleNN
Marina ClubMONTEREYPurpleNN
Mortimer's Card RoomMONTEREYPurpleNN
Pinnacle CasinoMONTEREYPurpleNN
Napa Valley CasinoNAPARedNN
Towers CasinoNEVADAOrange9/22N
Bruce's CasinoRIVERSIDERedNN
Lake Elsinore Hotel and CasinoRIVERSIDERedNN
Capitol CasinoSACRAMENTOPurpleNN
Hotel Del Rio & CasinoSACRAMENTOPurpleNN
Folsom Lake BowlSACRAMENTOPurpleNN
Limelight Card Room SACRAMENTOPurpleNN
Magnolia House CasinoSACRAMENTOPurpleNN
Parkwest Casino CordovaSACRAMENTOPurpleNN
Parkwest Casino LotusSACRAMENTOPurpleN 8/27
Rogelio's Inc.SACRAMENTOPurpleNN
Stones Gambling HallSACRAMENTOPurpleN 8/24
Lucky LadySAN DIEGORedNN
Ocean's Eleven CasinoSAN DIEGORedNN
Seven Mile CasinoSAN DIEGORedN 8/25
Casino RealSAN JOAQUINPurpleNN
Kings Card Club/ Westlane Cardroom SAN JOAQUINPurpleN 8/26
Parkwest Casino LodiSAN JOAQUINPurpleN 8/24
Star's CasinoSAN JOAQUINPurpleN 8/8
Central Coast Casino - Grover BeachSAN LUIS OBISPORedNN
Paso Robles CasinoSAN LUIS OBISPORedNN
Oceana (Brooks) Card roomSAN LUIS OBISPORedNN
Old Cayucos TavernSAN LUIS OBISPORedNN
Outlaws Card ParlourSAN LUIS OBISPORedNN
Artichoke's Joe's CasinoSAN MATEORedN 9/4
Lucky ChancesSAN MATEORedNN
Jalisco Pool RoomSANTA BARBARAPurpleNN
Bay 101SANTA CLARARedN9/11
Casino M8trixSANTA CLARARedN9/12
Garlic City ClubSANTA CLARARedNN
Tres Lounge and CasinoSANTA CRUZRedNN
Ocean View Card roomSANTA CRUZRedNN
Casino ClubSHASTAOrange9/15N
St. Charles PlaceSIERRARedNN
Parkwest Casino Sonoma (The 101)SONOMAPurpleNN
The River Card roomSONOMAPurpleNN
Empire Sportsmen's Assoc.STANISLAUSPurpleNN
Mike's Card CasinoSTANISLAUSPurpleNN
Turlock Poker RoomSTANISLAUSPurpleNN
Deuce Lounge & CasinoTULAREPurpleNN
The MintTULAREPurpleNN
Sundowner Card Room (Visalia)TULAREPurpleNN
Player's Poker ClubVENTURAPurpleNN
Casino MarysvilleYUBAPurpleNN
Golden State CasinoYUBAPurpleNN

Los Angeles cardrooms hope to join the fun

As shown in the table above, less than 20% of California cardrooms are currently open in any capacity.

The seven Los Angeles cardrooms hope to get permission to reopen outdoors next week. The County Board of Supervisors promised to take up the issue at its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 29.

The cardrooms asked the board for permission to reopen two weeks earlier. However, Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer asked the board to wait until the end of the month to see if Labor Day caused a spike of cases.

Each Los Angeles cardroom filed health and sanitation plans with the Bureau of Gambling Control this week.

According to Sharp,

“Reopening is not without risks but we think with all the protocols we’ve put in place and the health standards we’ve committed to, it helps mitigate that risk. We’ll have at least two sets of inspectors coming to inspect us, from the Department of Health and the Bureau of Gambling Control, and there’s only seven of us. We want to stay in line and I’m sure the regulators will make sure we stay in line.”

Photo by AP Newsroom
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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