Las Ve­gas isn’t the only show out West

Travel Guide to California - - CON­TENTS - BY MATT VIL­LANO

Deal Me In


The Pechanga Re­sort & Casino in Te­mec­ula opened in 2002, and is still the largest casino in Cal­i­for­nia. The re­sort is the big­gest em­ployer in the Te­mec­ula Val­ley, a place the Pechanga peo­ple have called home for more than 10,000 years. In the olden days—the days of Frank Si­na­tra and Bugsy Siegel—u.s. gam­blers look­ing for a date with Lady Luck had one op­tion: Las Ve­gas. Nowa­days, with changes to gam­bling laws in many states, it’s a safe bet that bet­tors can throw down their cash just about any­where. Of all the states that now of­fer gam­bling, the best (and most plen­ti­ful) op­tions are in Cal­i­for­nia.

The Golden State has two choices for peo­ple look­ing to place bets: Na­tive Amer­i­can casi­nos, and card rooms (which are glo­ri­fied bars where gam­bling is le­gal, so long as the house doesn’t win).

The Na­tive Amer­i­can out­posts tend to be far­ther from ma­jor cities but of­fer nicer digs. They have slots. They have ta­ble games. They even have bingo. Many of these wa­ger­ing won­der­lands are “Ve­gasstyle” re­sorts, com­plete with lux­ury ho­tels, top-notch restau­rants and in­dul­gent spas. A few of the prop­er­ties even have their own golf cour­ses.

Card rooms are smaller, qui­eter and, in many cases, more geared to­ward lo­cals. Games here are far less var­ied—in most cases, as the name sug­gests, only card games are avail­able. The up­side? Gam­bling ac­tion is usu­ally loose (and that’s a good thing).

We’ve di­vided Cal­i­for­nia’s gam­bling scene into four dis­tinct ge­o­graph­i­cal re­gions. Wher­ever you go, bet wisely, and re­mem­ber to stay within your means.

San Fran­cisco Bay Area & Be­yond

With­out ques­tion, the Bay Area is the most ex­cit­ing re­gion of Cal­i­for­nia for gam­bling, with more op­tions than any other part of the state. It also is home to the new­est ma­jor spot to let chips fly: Gra­ton Re­sort & Casino.

This at­trac­tion, lo­cated in Rohn­ert Park, is a hulk­ing casino built and op­er­ated by Sta­tion Casi­nos, one of the largest casino com­pa­nies in Las Ve­gas. Bet­tors cheer the swanky gam­bling floor, which boasts a 20ta­ble poker room, more than 130 ta­ble games, and thou­sands of slots. Food­ies flock to the place, too—the restau­rant lineup in­cludes an out­post of lo­cal fa­vorite Boathouse Sushi, and a food-court out­post of Tony’s Neapoli­tan-style pizze­ria. In Novem­ber 2016, Gra­ton also opened a 200-room re­sort ho­tel and spa.

Other Na­tive Amer­i­can casi­nos in this re­gion are small but su­perla­tive in other ways. Many, in­clud­ing Cache Creek (Brooks), Thun­der Val­ley (Lin­coln), Chukchansi (Coarsegold), and Twin Pine (Middletown) also have full-ser­vice ho­tels. Chukchansi is the clos­est casino to Yosemite Na­tional Park, just 27 miles from the south­ern en­trance near Wa­wona; it’s also just 15 miles from Bass Lake Re­cre­ation Area. Twin Pine, nearly half­way be­tween the winer­ies of the north­ern Napa Val­ley and Lake County, is said to be the na­tion’s only winethemed casino des­ti­na­tion. Red Hawk, in Plac­erville, of­fers child-care ser­vices for tykes while mom and dad play.

Most of the other gam­bling op­tions in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia are card rooms, and many are lo­cated in the sub­urbs of San Fran­cisco and Sacra­mento. The two most pop­u­lar: San Jose’s Bay 101, which hosts a num­ber of World Poker Tour events through­out the year, and Colma’s Lucky Chances, which doles out nearly $1 mil­lion in cash prizes (not to men­tion lots of seats to the an­nual World Se­ries of Poker) over the course of every year. Casino M8trix, in San Jose, dis­tin­guishes it­self with a thump­ing night­club.

So­cal and LA

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia—from the north­ern edge of the San Fer­nando Val­ley to the Mex­ico bor­der, the Pa­cific Ocean to I-15—is home to some of the big­gest Na­tive Amer­i­can casi­nos in the state, in­clud­ing Har­rah’s

Re­sort South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in Val­ley Cen­ter; Pala Casino Spa Re­sort in Pala; Barona Re­sort & Casino in Lake­side; and Pechanga Re­sort & Casino in Te­mec­ula. All of these prop­er­ties boast Ve­gas-style ho­tels with eater­ies, shop­ping and spas. In 2014, af­ter a $160-mil­lion ren­o­va­tion, Har­rah’s opened a new 403-room ho­tel tower and a pool deck that fea­tures a lazy river and week­end par­ties with live dee­jays.

Closer to Los An­ge­les, the name of the game is card rooms. Two fa­cil­i­ties are worth vis­it­ing for their grandeur alone: the Com­merce Casino (Com­merce) and the Bi­cy­cle Club (Bell Gar­dens). Both venues have ex­pan­sive poker rooms and host some of the most pop­u­lar tour­na­ments in the area.

The Desert

Pack­age deals abound for stay-and-play va­ca­tions at casino re­sorts in and around the Coachella Val­ley and Palm Springs. At Morongo Casino Re­sort & Spa in Cabazon, for in­stance, $199 per night gets guests a room plus a $30 casino credit and a $100 credit at one of the on-site restau­rants. Sim­i­lar deals are avail­able at the Agua Caliente Casino Re­sort Spa (Ran­cho Mi­rage). Most area casi­nos have their own golf cour­ses, but lo­cals rave about Ea­gle Falls, the course at Fan­tasy Springs Re­sort Casino in In­dio. The 18-hole course was de­signed by ar­chi­tect Clive Clark.

Lake Tahoe

Okay, okay, so the casi­nos that si­dle up to Lake Tahoe are on the Nevada side of the state line. Still, they’re close enough to most other des­ti­na­tions in Cal­i­for­nia that they de­serve a men­tion here.

Ex­clud­ing those in Reno, the most ac­ces­si­ble venues are lo­cated in South Lake Tahoe. Here, the Mont­bleu Re­sort, Casino & Spa (for­merly a Cae­sars prop­erty) is by far the swanki­est, with ul­tra-mod­ern lounges and a steak­house that makes Ruth’s Chris seem like Mcdon­ald’s. The Hard Rock Ho­tel & Casino Lake Tahoe, with 500 ho­tel rooms and a 25,000-square-foot casino, opened in 2015 in the old Hori­zon Casino Re­sort space lo­cated down the street.

Of course the best thing about casi­nos at Lake Tahoe is that be­cause they’re in Nevada, they play by Nevada rules (see side­bar). Since sports books and dice games are il­le­gal in the state of Cal­i­for­nia, this means Tahoe is the spot to place those kinds of bets.

Big spenders, con­sider your­selves warned. And good luck.

PLAC­ING A BET at the roulette ta­ble, op­po­site; Catalina Is­land Har­bor Casino, right; ready to hit the jack­pot, bot­tom.

PECHANGA CASINO, top; Morongo Casino Re­sort & Spa in Cabazon, above.

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