Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Napa Valley Casino

Today was another nice day -- yet another perfect opportunity for either wine tasting or an outdoor activity. But I've felt a little under the weather. I was considering trying a new winery -- there is a new tasting room that went up a stone's throw from my apartment -- but I had a little too much wine with dinner last night (ironically, neither was from Napa; one was an "ancient vines" zinfandel from Cline Cellars in Sonoma, but sourced in Oakley; followed by some after-dinner tayberry wine from Silverside Farm and Winery in Victoria, British Columbia.)

Since I got a late start to the day and couldn't handle any more wine (but I'm pretty sure I will tomorrow!), I decided to head down to Napa Valley Casino and play some poker. Technically, this "casino" is in American Canyon, off of Hwy. 29 just south of Napa (but not quite in Vallejo). There's really not a whole lot to see in American Canyon -- it's a sort of suburban, residential area between Vallejo and Napa, with some chain big-box stores and fast-food restaurants. Not entirely exciting. And technically, it's not even really a "casino" -- Las Vegas this is not (or even Reno or Tahoe)! There are no flashing lights, special entertainment, chaotic sounds, or any of the other typical "casino" accoutrements. That's because it's actually more of a "cardhouse"; in California, it is illegal for casinos to operate in the typical sense, where the casino makes its money primarily from games where you bet against the house (with the odds always at least slightly in their favor) -- you will find no craps, slot machines, or traditional blackjack at Napa Valley Casino. Those games can only be found in the true casinos which are only allowed on American Indian grounds in California.

Having said that, the Napa Valley Casino could be a destination for some tourists (and locals alike). Why? Because -- as they note on their website -- what else is there to do in Napa in the evenings?? Once the wineries close, you have a few options: restaurants (usually good, but after that... then what?); a couple pubs/bars, but they are scarce and often not so exciting; or some entertainment, but that is just as rare -- the Napa Opera House and Uptown Theatre has some cool performances, but only on certain dates. The Cinedome theater for movies in Napa is horrible -- possibly the worst movie theater I've ever been to (not exaggerating), and the only other real option is the Cameo Cinema upvalley in St. Helena... great little theater, but only one screen so you the only choice is to see whatever they happen to be showing that night.

Now, gambling is not for everyone. I am aware of that. And this casino is not flash and glamor and dazzling lights like you might get in Vegas. But if you do like to do a little gambling, this place is the local spot to do so -- and to be honest, it always feels a little safer and more comfortable to me than other cardhouses I have been to in California. It's pretty small and "cozy", with only about 10 tables in there, three to six of which will always have some variant of poker going (mostly $3-$6 limit Texas Hold'Em, but also no-limit hold'em, often an Omaha table, and sometimes $4-$8 hold'em). They also offer pai gow, three card poker, and a variant of blackjack (with slightly better odds because you are not actually playing against the casino). They are open 24/7, 365 days a year and located about 10-15 minutes' drive south of downtown Napa, so it's always an option when there really isn't another option... or if you are just craving some card playing.

They also serve free dinners at around 7:00-8:00 pm, and I don't know where they get the food from, but it is actually pretty good! So, tonight I decided to stick around for that, and had a nice homemade beef stew with tender meat and vegetables served with soft polenta. Sometimes they have prime rib or chicken or tilapia with capers.

I walked in and plunked down $60 for chips, and a few hours later I walked out with $540. Combine this with the free and tasty dinner, and you can't beat that for a spur-of-the-moment evening of leisurely card playing!

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