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Poker tourneys draw players, local casino cashes in

Erik Dade sits back in his chair, stuffs his hands into the pockets of his jacket and bites his lip in nervous anticipation. The smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the air at the Gold Rush Casino as 10 people slowly begin to take their seats at the oval-shaped table.

As dealer Marc Christy begins to explain the rules of the Texas Hold’em Tournament, Dade’s demeanor transforms to a “poker face.” The jacket comes off, he dons a pair of dark sunglasses and sits motionless awaiting the first hand.

The sixth of 10 satellite tournaments is about to get underway in Grass Valley. While there are tournaments six days a week at the Gold Rush Casino, this one is special. The grand prize is $10,000 and a chance to play in the coveted World Series of Poker this spring at Binon’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas.



The popularity of poker has risen tenfold in the past year, with high-stakes tournaments such as the World Series of Poker being broadcast on national television. In fact, Bravo, the Travel Channel and ESPN all continuously air shows based solely on Texas Hold’em tournaments.

The coverage has not only impacted the number of spectators, but the number of poker players, as well. The increase in the recreational activity has trickled down to the Gold Rush Casino, where the number of regular players has gone from 60 to 160, and the mailing list has bulked up to 600, owner Sue Barrows said.




Barrows purchased the Gold Rush Casino little more than a year ago. The 106 E. Main St. building has always been a card room. Card rooms are legal in California so long as all tables are licensed and players try to beat each other and not the house.

Barrows, a former television producer from the Bay Area, knew little about gaming when she first purchased the place. She moved to Nevada County to provide a better quality of life for her mother. After she bought the card room, Barrows and her husband, Doug, had to take classes to learn how to deal and to run a gaming establishment.

Her motivation was to create a place where people would feel welcome. Barrows wanted to create a social atmosphere, as well.

The Gold Rush now offers two rooms decorated in a style reminiscent of the mid- to late-1800s. The front room is a comfortable place to sit, play a game of chess, or watch the back-room players. At the wooden bar, beer, wine, espresso and soda are served.

But the back room offers the action.

On a recent Saturday night, the main event was the satellite poker tournament. The person who eventually wins the final $10,000 prize will be able to play for a chance at about $3 million.

The rise in popularity of the World Series of Poker has increased the stakes by at least $500,000 from last year. The fact that an amateur from Tennessee named Chris Moneymaker beat out professional poker players to win the 2003 series has unknowns everywhere hopeful that they could be next, including those in Grass Valley.

The sound of poker chips smacking together dominates the atmosphere, where everyone watches quietly as Christy deals the initial hand in the first round of a recent satellite poker tournament.

Players either fiddle with their poker chips or sit quietly, resting their heads in their hands. Everyone has a different look, a different strategy for how to win. Some, such as Dade, hope for a good hand to get them through.

Lake Wildwood resident Mike Atlas has played poker since the 1960s. He visits the Gold Rush Casino twice a week, including the satellite tournaments.

“(Poker) is intellectually challenging, and there’s money to be made,” Atlas said.

The Gold Rush Casino caters to all levels of players, from beginners to the very skilled. It offers tournaments for newcomers in which tips and lessons are provided. For the more advanced players looking to spend, there are seven to eight tournaments to choose from a week.

For more details about what the Gold Rush Casino offers, either stop by or call 477-6537.


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