ESPN has started showing the 2006 WSOP on TV. For those of you not in the know, that's the 'World Series of Poker' held in Las Vegas the top prize in the 'Big One' this year was a staggering $12-million dollars. While there are some of you who like to watch, there are also those who like to play, and for those people, playing live poker is just a skip and a hop away, just past downtown Los Angeles or LAX. We Angelinos happen to have a few Casinos. Hollywood Park near the airport, and Bicycle Club, Commerce Casino (where my friend's 85-year old mother regularly plays Pan every Wednesday and Saturday nights!), and Larry Flynt's Hustler Club. We're spoiled for choice.
Before I give you some impressions of these clubs, I just want to say that there is no truth to the rumor that the dealers at the Hustler Club are topless. Seems this was an elaborate ruse to get people to the club, but it's a nice dream, isn't it.
These Los Angeles Casinos aren't really casinos at all but more like glorified card rooms. Don't expect the glitz and glamour that Vegas has to offer. All of these casinos are in landscapes that even by LA standards are bland. Taco Bell, and perhaps Starbucks may be some of the area's cultural hotspots. A Casino wouldn't have to do much to appear classy or opulant within that landscape. Even so, all of these casino's underwhelm. Hustler looks like a big gymnasium, and Commerce, the sole offering with an actual hotel is just plain weird. It's rather plain architecture is accented by a series of internally lit plastic cones that straddle the entryway. At night, ten of the cones flash a blast of red light -- apparently the Casino designers hoped to achieve Vegas-style glitz with Christmas decorations from WalMart.
That being said, these casinos are great if you're a slob, or like good value. If you're playing at any of the tables, you can order from a menu of culinary delights (I'm using this term very loosely), and the server soon emerges with your food on a small side-car, and you can eat at the table. This would be all very well and good, except you are still gambling, and handling cards, and chips, and who knows where everyone's hands have been. However, the food is great value if you're winning. If you play for an hour at one of the lower stakes tables, you essentially just pay for service. Food is basically free. I once had a milkshake, grilled cheese with fires, and to top it off a Sundae for $2.75. Beat that!!!!!!!!
No trip to an LA cardroom would be complete without a few celebrity sightings. Toby McGuire, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ben Affleck have all been spotted in the high-limit room. In steerage, Lou Diamond Phillips and Willie Garson (of Sex and the City fame) were seen playing in the low buy-in no-limit games.
The card clubs also features plenty of bad actors of the less glamorous variety. While I was there, I saw a belligerent man get escorted from his table by security. And during the span of just one tournament, a fist fight broke out and a man poured a carafe of boiling water down another player's shirt. I've also seen a drug sting go down in the bathroom at the Commerce, projectile vomiting (don't eat the Clam Chowder), and a knifing (also in the bathroom). Obviously, if you've got to go, go, but use caution. I don't know what is in the water, but you tend to see people at these places that you don't see anywhere else. People with strange teeth, strange haircuts, and strange clothes. It's like the bizarro Vegas.
Strangely enough, I rarely see old people at the casino. I had been under the impression that old people liked to gamble, and were attracted to the cheap food, but I guess they are herded into some back room of the casino to play the 'old people' games. I heard if you're old they even send a limosine to pick you up so you cash your disability and social security checks directly at the casino cage.
BTW if you're wondering why I called my inaugural post 'Chiiip,' that's because the predominantly Asian dealers have a habit of saying the word 'chip' in a variety of tones, all of them annoying, when a player needs to re-buy more chips.
So if you're into the thrill of looming danger, or minor star-spotting, the LA casinos are definitely a good place to play, and closer than Vegas.