With some eight card clubs during the ‘60s and ‘70s, Gardena was “the card-playing capital of the world,” says Al Underwood, director of marketing at the Hustler Casino. The lights dimmed for several decades, thanks to Las Vegas’ resurgence as an entertainment destination, but good times are rolling again. These days the Hustler Casino stands on the site of the bankrupt El Dorado Casino, which was bought and razed by publisher, political activist and free speech champion Larry Flynt. Flynt spent $40 million to build the 48,000-square-foot facility, which opened in June 2000. His gamble seems to be paying off: At 6 p.m. on a recent Monday, the place was packed with regulars, lifers, gambling addicts and fans.
How did you get into this?
I’ve been a dealer for 17 years. I used to go to a casino in Huntington Park with my sister and friends. I didn’t play. I would go every day and watch them play. One day Eddie, the general manager, came out and said, “You could be making money while you’re here. We need a telephone operator.” I took the job. While I was doing that, I taught myself how to deal. Eddie auditioned me, and I’ve been dealing ever since.
Why do you stick with it?
I love my job. You learn something new every day.
What kind of player is the worst?
A player who hates to lose. They tend to throw cards. But in here you only get to do that once.
What makes a good dealer?
A good dealer runs his game. If a player gets out of control, you stop that right away.
Do you have any lucky charms?
Four lucky shirts. I’m in a tournament tonight so I’m wearing one. This shirt has the highest return.
Most bizarre episode you’ve seen?
A woman said, “If I lose this hand I’m going to take my top off.” She lost, and she was a woman of her word. She did keep her bra on.
What’s the worst type of player?
A “rock,” a person so conservative with their action that when they finally bet nobody calls. It’s a dull poker game.
Best jukebox music for cards?
I’d like to hear more Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
What would you tell those who condemn gambling?
They’re entitled to their opinion, but the majority of people across the nation like to gamble. This is America. Power to the people.
Law Student at UCLA
When should ya hold ‘em? When should ya fold ‘em?
If you have to think about it, you should not be holding. “No-brainer” hands are the only kind you should play. Playing risky is not worth it except maybe in tournaments.
Is there a card player “type”?
I’ve sat at tables with people who claim they’re homeless. I’ve sat with producers and former math-science Caltech-type people. The classic good player is confident and very cocky. You see many attorneys, especially litigators. It’s the aggressive, competitive, never-let-them-see-you-flinch mentality.
What trumps--strategy or luck?
For one day, luck trumps, but several days a week, then you need strategy. I play maybe four days a week. I’m in my final year of law school. After I take the bar in July, I’ll play in the courtroom instead.
How’d you get into this?
I went to Arizona State. I worked for a casino out there. When I moved to L.A., I came here and applied.
How are casino customers different?
The customers are very serious here when it comes to their money and their playing. A lot are trying to make money out of this. If they lose a lot they can be rude. When they win big, you benefit.
Most-ordered drink here?
They’re pretty big on domestic beers and Corona. Drinking and gambling seem to go hand in hand.
Strangest thing you see here?
Some customers get so mad they almost get into fistfights. But the majority are good people.