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Planning gives go-ahead for Poker Room bar

POSTED November 2, 2012 9:22 p.m.

The Turlock Poker Room is set to grow – and add a full-service bar – after Turlock Planning Commission approval Thursday night.

The expansion plans will see the Turlock Poker Room take over the current site of Happy Feet Massage, situated between the Poker Room and Turlock Regal Cinemas. Within that expanded footprint, the Poker Room will add a 1,320 square foot bar and additional restrooms; the Poker Room currently shares its restrooms with neighbor business Lamppost Pizza.

The bar is approved to operate from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. at the 24-hour Poker Room. Drinks will not be compensated for players, but will be served at both the gaming tables and within the bar area.

A fenced, outdoor 320 square foot patio will allow patrons to drink outside in a secured space; currently, when Poker Room guests go outside, they must stand on the sidewalk near a temporary gazebo.

“The primary purpose is to make our gaming floor more interesting and our gaming customers more interested in coming to our place,” said Turlock Poker Room co-owner Phil Rheinschild.

As a mid-size card room, Rheinschild said, the Turlock Poker Room faces competition from the larger tribal casinos.

For many customers, the lack of alcohol at the Poker Room has been a negative, Rheinschild said. But it hasn’t kept some customers from going next door for a pitcher of beer at Lamppost Pizza, walking to a convenience store for a bottle of booze, or even running out to their cars to drink between hands.

Rheinschild said he had long been opposed to adding a bar to the Poker Room, but that he believed bringing the drinking in house – and under the Poker Room’s observation and security – would ultimately reduce problems while increasing the business’ allure to customers.

Additionally, the expansion plans call for the Poker Room to relocate administrative offices from within the Poker Room to a separate suite in the Turlock Cinema Center. In place of the offices, the Poker Room will construct a “High-Rollers” room, for high-stakes gambling. The Poker Room will continue to be permitted for 14 operational tables at any one time, however; if a high-stakes table is in use, another table must be taken out of service.

Planning commissioners initially expressed concern about the bar’s proximity to the Turlock Regal Cinemas, fearing that rowdy patrons might disturb children and families visiting the movies.

“My only concern is that that patio area is right next to the movie theatre, where all the kids are,” Commissioner Alex Salcedo said. “… I know I'm going to be taking my kids to the movies, and you're going to hear (foul language).”

Commissioners were assured by the Turlock Police Department that the Poker Room has operated its security extremely well. Rheinschild said his business will continue to be good neighbors to the Turlock Regal Cinemas, with expanded security ensuring patrons remain orderly both on the patio and indoors.

“We already make a practice of managing the loudmouths,” Rheinschild said. “People don't wait until they get outside to be a loudmouth. You can only expect what gamblers say when they lose a hand.”

Should any issues result, the Planning Commission can revisit the Poker Room’s permit and may elect to alter or revoke the permit.

The Poker Room expects to move slowly in building the new expansion. Rheinschild said that Happy Feet Massage must first be relocated to a vacant storefront in the center – at the Poker Room’s expense. The bar is not expected to open until June 2013, at the earliest.

“We’re taking our time in putting this together,” Rheinschild said.

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