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

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, Bay 101 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 fires, 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 smokey 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 three-foot high barriers to keep wayward vehicles out of the gaming area while allowing for airflow.

The barriers at Stars are higher than three 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 handwashing stations, and the washing of paper chips.

Counties moving on up colored tiers

California has 58 counties. When the governor 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:

Cardroom County Tier Indoors Outdoors
Livermore Casino ALAMEDA Red N N
Oaks Card Club ALAMEDA Red N N
Palace Card Room ALAMEDA Red N N
Parkwest Casino 580 ALAMEDA Red N N
Casino 99 BUTTE Purple N N
California Grand Casino CONTRA COSTA Purple N N
Kelly’s CONTRA COSTA Purple N N
Nineteenth Hole CONTRA COSTA Purple N N
Clovis 500 Club FRESNO Purple N N
Club One Casino FRESNO Purple N N
North Coast Casino HUMBOLDT Orange N N
Tommy’s Casino & Saloon IMPERIAL Purple N N
Aviator KERN Purple N N
Diamond Jim’s KERN Purple N N
Golden West Casino KERN Purple N 8/12
Bicycle Casino LOS ANGELES Purple N N
Club Caribe LOS ANGELES Purple N N
Commerce Casino LOS ANGELES Purple N N
Crystal Casino LOS ANGELES Purple N N
Hawaiian Gardens Casino LOS ANGELES Purple N N
Hollywood Park LOS ANGELES Purple N N
Hustler Casino LOS ANGELES Purple N N
Larry Flynt’s Lucky Lady Casino LOS ANGELES Purple N N
La Primavera Pool Hall & Café MADERA Purple N N
Club San Rafael MARIN Red N N
Golden Valley Casino MERCED Purple N N
Banker’s Casino MONTEREY Purple N N
Marina Club MONTEREY Purple N N
Mortimer’s Card Room MONTEREY Purple N N
Pinnacle Casino MONTEREY Purple N N
Napa Valley Casino NAPA Red N N
Towers Casino NEVADA Orange 9/22 N
Bruce’s Casino RIVERSIDE Red N N
Lake Elsinore Hotel and Casino RIVERSIDE Red N N
Capitol Casino SACRAMENTO Purple N N
Hotel Del Rio & Casino SACRAMENTO Purple N N
Folsom Lake Bowl SACRAMENTO Purple N N
Limelight Card Room SACRAMENTO Purple N N
Magnolia House Casino SACRAMENTO Purple N N
Parkwest Casino Cordova SACRAMENTO Purple N N
Parkwest Casino Lotus SACRAMENTO Purple N 8/27
Rogelio’s Inc. SACRAMENTO Purple N N
Stones Gambling Hall SACRAMENTO Purple N 8/24
Lucky Lady SAN DIEGO Red N N
Ocean’s Eleven Casino SAN DIEGO Red N N
Seven Mile Casino SAN DIEGO Red N 8/25
Casino Real SAN JOAQUIN Purple N N
Kings Card Club/ Westlane Cardroom SAN JOAQUIN Purple N 8/26
Parkwest Casino Lodi SAN JOAQUIN Purple N 8/24
Star’s Casino SAN JOAQUIN Purple N 8/8
Central Coast Casino – Grover Beach SAN LUIS OBISPO Red N N
Paso Robles Casino SAN LUIS OBISPO Red N N
Oceana (Brooks) Card room SAN LUIS OBISPO Red N N
Old Cayucos Tavern SAN LUIS OBISPO Red N N
Outlaws Card Parlour SAN LUIS OBISPO Red N N
Artichoke’s Joe’s Casino SAN MATEO Red N 9/4
Lucky Chances SAN MATEO Red N N
Jalisco Pool Room SANTA BARBARA Purple N N
Bay 101 SANTA CLARA Red N 9/11
Casino M8trix SANTA CLARA Red N 9/12
Garlic City Club SANTA CLARA Red N N
Tres Lounge and Casino SANTA CRUZ Red N N
Ocean View Card room SANTA CRUZ Red N N
Casino Club SHASTA Orange 9/15 N
St. Charles Place SIERRA Red N N
Parkwest Casino Sonoma (The 101) SONOMA Purple N N
The River Card room SONOMA Purple N N
Empire Sportsmen’s Assoc. STANISLAUS Purple N N
Mike’s Card Casino STANISLAUS Purple N N
Turlock Poker Room STANISLAUS Purple N N
Deuce Lounge & Casino TULARE Purple N N
The Mint TULARE Purple N N
Sundowner Card Room (Visalia) TULARE Purple N N
Player’s Poker Club VENTURA Purple N N
Casino Marysville YUBA Purple N N
Golden State Casino YUBA Purple N N

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 Dr. 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.”

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