Local card room's win-win expansion, relocation

By Carla Iacovetti 07/09/2009

Known as “the biggest little card room in California,” the Players Club has a 60-year plus legacy behind it, and even in a strained economy, it continues to thrive.

Not only is the Players Club flourishing, it is expanding. Currently with six tables, it plans to increase that number to 18, with its proposed move to 6800 Auto Center Drive in Ventura. CEO Bill Kracht, a native of North Carolina, is passionate about the club and is excited about what the growth will mean for card players as well as Ventura County.

“There has been absolutely no negative response about the club’s expansion,” Kracht says. “In fact, we have full support of both the police department and Ventura City Council.”

With a move by the first of the year (pursuant to the permits), the new facility will be an upgrade at every level. It will have better visibility being off the freeway versus at its current location on Ventura Avenue, which will mean increased business. In addition, with the increased number of tables, the club will offer a greater variety of games to the public. Currently, the six-table poker room offers popular poker games like Texas Hold’em, Five-Card Omaha, and Pineapple, but California Games and additional no-limit hold’em games with bigger limits are planned. The Players Club new home will boast an additional 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.

Along with additional games, Kracht plans to expand the restaurant and its menu. “Even with limited space and a limited menu, the food is pretty good,” he admits, but he plans on opening an upscale restaurant, with a wide-ranging menu to boot.

While it is true that the Ventura City Council unanimously approved the club’s move, Sid White, the city’s economic development manager emphasized, “The approval is only one step in the normal planning process, and everything is still contingent upon the design approval. Ventura City has not ever been known for its speed with a planning process.”

The Players Club has been after a relocation and expansion approval for a long time. “It’s been an evolutionary process,” White said.

The process really began in November of 2005 with the passing of the D-5 Measure, which added a chapter to the municipal code of a card room tax of 15 percent of the gross revenues. In 2006, more amendments were added to the municipal codes to expand its use, but it wasn’t until January 2009 that the City Council actually approved the club’s operations to 18 tables.

“With the increase of the tables, it was obvious that there is no way that could happen at the clubs current location,” White said. The passing of the D-5 measure was the catalyst that pushed the unanimous approval for the tables. Once that happened, a new location was inevitable.

“This has been a very thoughtful and steady process along the way,” White explained. “It seems to have taken the right amount of time — the stars are aligned, and both the owner and the city want this to take place.”

It is no wonder that the city is supporting the club. In 2008, the club generated about $260,000, and the city gets 15 percent of the club’s gross earnings, which is the highest tax rate of any local business in Ventura County. Kracht says the expansion will mean a minimum of 100 more jobs and generated income for the county.

Sean Clark, who has worked as a foreman for the club for the last four and a half years, claims, “This club is the friendliest card room that I’ve ever played at, and that is to include playing in Las Vegas.” According to Clark, “It’s not just about poker, but it is about meeting new friends, enjoying good food, while taking pleasure in the game!”

The Players Poker Club began as a state-regulated card room in the 1930s. In 1949, Pinky Donahue bought the club, and his widow Monica owns the club today.

Kracht says, “I have been with Players Club since 1983, and I still enjoy getting up and going to work every day. My job is social and very rewarding!” Kracht makes it his business to get to know everyone who comes in.

During America’s Wild West days, saloons with a poker table were customary in nearly every town from coast to coast. But this is not the case today. In fact, this is the only poker room between the Chumash Casino in San Ynez and Los Angeles.

Not only are gaming locations far and few between, in 1998, the State of California developed the Commissions of Gambling Control, placing a moratorium on gaming as a means of controlling gambling. Despite the restriction, Kracht sees this working in the card room’s favor. He believes the new facility will draw players from Thousand Oaks and Agoura, especially since their only option now is to drive to Los Angeles. Historic Ventura, with its beautiful vistas and charming shops, hotels and restaurants, is an added attraction for out-of-the area players.

The club is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. All in all, the new plans for expansion look like a win-win situation for both the Players Club and the city of Ventura.   


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