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NorCal Poker Ambassador

By Randall Rapp

Now in its 16th year, The Cardroom has been your source for news about poker players from, and poker games in, Northern California. That will never change, but we are also working on expanding the “casino” part of casino and poker news.

We hope to offer more information on casinos throughout the area, whether they have live poker games or not. We’ve started with an expanded Casino News section (page 1) and a new—and more complete—list of all NorCal casinos in our updated Casino Directory (page 10).

If you notice something missing or want to see something else included, let us know. If there’s a news item we didn’t cover or one you think we got wrong, tell us about that too. We’d love to hear from you at

In that vein, your humble Ambassador and Mrs. A took a trip through Sacramento and the gold country, going to new places as well as old favorites.

Capitol Casino

If I’m going through Sacramento, I try to make it a point to stop at Capitol Casino. If you haven’t been there lately you should stop by to see all the changes, both inside and out. The whole place is looking great, there’s a big new parking lot, and the games are as good or better than ever.

We managed to time our arrival to coincide with the beginning of their 11 a.m. Saturday tournament. We started with 6,000 chips for $65, plus one re-buy chip which was good for 6,000 more chips for $50.

Not much happened for me the first few levels—small pots won and lost—when my suited connectors flopped the flush draw. I stuck around for a medium-sized bet on the flop and hit the third heart I wanted on the turn.

When the villain led out again, I moved the rest of my chips in and was a little surprised when he called, showing top pair, top kicker. Unfortunately, his ace was also a heart. So, of course, another heart hit the board on the river, and it was re-buy time.

Long story short, things continued not to go my way, and I was out before too long. Once again, I was outlasted by Mrs. A., who managed to survive a couple more levels despite getting very little from the deck.

While I waited, I got a seat in the $4/8 game. It’s ironic (or at least funny) that Bill Patty (page 6) chose this issue to discuss the fine art of folding, because I was determined to play like a prop and fold those marginal speculative hands.

It lasted about two orbits, then I realized my time was short and I should make something happen. It didn’t.

Hats off to you Bill.

Hard Rock Casino Sacramento

Next, we went to check out the brand-new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain. (Is it just me, or is that a really long name?) It’s about 20 or 30 minutes north of Sacramento, right near the big amphitheater.

Visually, the casino is everything you would expect from the Hard Rock brand. They have all your favorite table games and oodles of slot machines.

Two fine-dining restaurants grace the property—Council Oak Steaks and Seafood and Song, which they bill as “modern, high-energy Chinese.” Right next to Song is Youyu Noodle Bar, where Mrs. A dropped in to share the roasted duck rice bowl. Very tasty!

In addition, they also have the Fresh Harvest buffet, Constant Grind for coffee and other snacks, as well as burgers and more at the Hard Rock Café.

Magnolia House Casino
Rancho Cordova

When we arrived at Magnolia House Casino it was, quite serendipitously, Happy Hour! Not wanting to look a gift discount in the mouth, we sat in their gorgeous bar. Mrs. A had a beet salad and tried a couple of specialty cocktails. I went for the chicken wings, garlic fries, and a Magnolia Mule. It was all perfection.

After a chat with “Lito” in the casino, I learned that, at present, the poker games are only operating a couple of days a week. If you’re in the area and looking for poker, give them a call to see when the games get going.

The table games, though, were humming right along with plenty of happy folks enjoying themselves.

Harrah’s Northern California

Another beautiful new casino is Harrah’s Northern California. It was exquisite up in the hills when we showed up, with Harrah’s lighting up the night sky. We really just stopped in for a look-see, and what we saw impressed.

Louie Oliver’s Restaurant & Bar is described as an upscale, yet approachable dining and drinking destination, and that is exactly what it appeared to be. They also have the Quick Bites coffee bar and a food court featuring American, Asian and Mexican food.

They had plenty of table games, including craps, California roulette and pai gow, and the usual selection of slot machines galore. This place is like a shiny new penny and a great place for gaming when you’re up in the gold country.

Black Oak Casino

The next morning we went to Black Oak Casino to play in their 11 a.m. Sunday tournament. How I wish I could report that this time it was all rainbows and unicorns, but the deck continued to conspire against me. Had a slightly better run than the day before, but in the end I managed to get my chips in with the worst of it.

Once again, Mrs. A managed to stick around longer than me, but eventually there was no joy for her either.

The good news, though, is Black Oak has a relatively new poker room and regular games to fill it. They also feature tournaments seven days a week, so it’s a pretty good destination for the poker player looking to get away.

Chicken Ranch Casino

Every time I drove up to Black Oak, I would pass signs for a place called the Chicken Ranch Casino. In the past, knowing they didn’t have poker, I just kept driving. Since this time the mission was a bit different, I figured it was time to see just what this place has to offer.

Turns out it was a good thing I never stopped in before, because I might not have come back. What was once a tiny place with mostly Bingo and a few slots, got transformed last year into a modern casino with plenty of slots and table games.

We were ahead of schedule, so Mrs. A and I sat down to play some blackjack. Our dealer, Vivian, was charming, helpful, informative and busted a lot. She was perfect. We actually managed to come out enough ahead to make up for our tournament losses and then some. Of course, Mrs. A won more than I did.

Despite the narrow, sketchy road you have to take off the highway to get there, I would definitely return to the Chicken Ranch Casino for more action.