The Wine Country Cardroom, railed against by Lodi's religious community for promoting what they consider the sinful act of gambling, opened quietly on Memorial Day to some 30 people who quietly played Texas Hold 'em poker.
Ryan Lewis, who owns the cardroom on South Cherokee Lane with his father and grandmother, David and Natalie Lewis, opened without advertising. In fact, he basically invited his friends, some of whom are in the poker-dealing business.
"I came to check out the place," said Robert Younan of Modesto, who used to deal cards. "My first impression is it's a very, very nice venue in the area. It's nicer than most of the cardrooms in the area."
Before more than 100 people at Carnegie Forum, the Lodi City Council voted 4-1 to approve the cardroom, with Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock casting the lone dissenting vote.
Wine Country Cardroom, located south of Kettleman Lane at 1800 S. Cherokee Lane, has eight tables, four of which were in use Monday afternoon. Cocktail waitresses were serving drinks as players watched sports on three large-screen TVs. There was an ATM in one corner in case players wanted more cash.
Wine Country is suffering from the reputation cardrooms had 30 years ago - sports betting, loan sharking and prostitution, Lewis said. That doesn't happen at his Lodi cardroom or elsewhere for that matter, he said.
"They're not gangsters; they're not gang members," Lewis said.
Lewis emphasized that his business is not a casino, but a cardroom. Except on Indian reservations, casinos are illegal in California because they offer games of chance. Texas Hold 'em poker is a game of skill, Lewis said.
"We have no vested interest in the outcome of the game," Lewis said.
• Players must protect their hand at all times; they cannot leave cards unattended.
• Players are not allowed to show their cards.
• No throwing cards.
• Do not beg for "lucky money" or passing chips.
• English must be spoken at all tables.
• Do not stand behind or criticize other players.
Source: Wine Country Cardroom.
At casinos, players go against the house when playing blackjack, craps or slot machines, Lewis said. Odds are over the long haul you will lose. Playing Texas Hold 'em in a cardroom, your skill will win out if you're good enough, he said.
A young man who describes himself as a poker dealer from Isleton says it's really a mixture of skill and luck.
"It's about 40 percent luck, 40 percent skill and 20 percent talking out your opponent," said the man, who identified himself only as Y. Webb.
"When you have bad luck days (at Texas Hold 'em), your skill compensates," Webb said.
It's quite odd that Lodi, with more than 63,000 people has only one cardroom.
"I live in Isleton with 900 people, and we have two cardrooms," Webb said.
Players and visitors, who play poker, certainly saw no reason for conservative people to say that a cardroom isn't appropriate for a city like Lodi.
Lewis opened quietly because he is training his 65 to 80 employees, many of whom work only one or two days a week.
Among his staff are a semi-retired man with 15 years experience dealing poker, who works only a couple days per week, and two who have full-time jobs in other careers and deal poker twice a week. Three others are brand new, having come out of card-dealing school, Lewis said.
The building also has a bar on the other end of the building. A restaurant is scheduled to open on Saturday.