California Card Clubs Get Creative with 24/7 Outdoor Gaming

Posted on: September 7, 2020, 02:51h. 

Last updated on: September 8, 2020, 09:28h.

California card clubs in counties where Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has maintained a ban on nonessential indoor business operations and gatherings have become quite resourceful in keeping the cards in the air.

California card club casino
Artichoke Joe’s, a California card club, has popped up a tent and welcomed back gamblers. (Image: Artichoke Joe’s)

Newsom ordered California card clubs to suspend their indoor operations back in March. After easing certain restrictions on indoor businesses, the governor reimplemented a second round of closures on 19 counties.

One of those counties is San Mateo, home to Artichoke Joe’s Casino. However, as of last Friday, September 4, the Bay Area cardroom reopened for business under a large tent. The 13,000-square-foot, the open-sided canopy is equipped with 32 card tables, as well as a dining area.

We call it our open-air casino,” Artichoke Joe’s Casino President Vince DeFriese told KCBS Radio. “We brought our gaming operations out into this tent.”

In normal times, aka pre-COVID, Artichoke Joe’s offers Texas hold’em, as well as player-banked versions of classic casino table games, including blackjack, pai gow, baccarat, and three-card poker. But for now, there’s no Texas hold’em.

“We’re going to bring poker back,” DeFriese said. “We’re still trying to figure out a way to properly social distance. It’s a challenge with that game.”

For now, customers can play blackjack, pai gow, three-card poker, and baccarat 24 hours a day. Food is available between 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. The cardroom advises patrons to dress warmly.

Dating back to 1916, Artichoke Joe’s is one of the state’s oldest and largest cardrooms. In 2017, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network imposed an $8 million fine on the casino for failing to combat money laundering.

Worker Callbacks

Artichoke Joe’s isn’t the only California card club that has moved its gaming outdoors. Last month, the Stars Casino in Tracy, San Joaquin County, became the first California cardroom to begin operations outdoors.

Stars and Artichoke Joe’s say just as important as welcoming back gamblers is welcoming back workers. “We are recalling almost all of our employees,” DeFriese revealed. The casino’s workforce numbers more than 400 people.

The outdoor gaming operations will allow the local cardroom to restore the jobs of its employees, most of whom have not been working the past several months, as the cardroom remained closed,” a statement from Stars read.

While Newsom has the authority to close commercial gaming enterprises such as cardrooms, he has no power over tribal casinos, which operate on sovereign land. According to the American Gaming Association’s COVID-19 Casino Tracker, all but one casino venue owned by Native Americans is back open for play.

California Wildfires

Setting up outdoor gaming areas is one solution to keep cards in the air during Newsom’s ban on indoor gatherings. But the actual air in many parts of California is currently quite poor.

Wildfires are raging up and down the state. Nearly 400,000 acres of land throughout the counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Merced, and Stanislaus have burned. Artichoke Joe’s and Stars are both near the SCU (Santa Clara Unit) Lightning Complex, as the Diablo Range fires are being called.

The EPA’s AirNow website warned of “Unhealthy” air conditions for Tracy (Artichoke Joe’s) on Monday and “Moderate” for San Mateo (Stars).

Depending on winds, residents as far away as Las Vegas have, in the past, reported being able to smell smoke from California wildfires, so their potential inhalation impact range is hundreds of miles.