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Oaks Card Club: The Place To Play In the Bay 

Lead Poker Floor Ed Rosario Talks About Friendly Environment and Big Cash Give Aways

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Mar 13, 2019

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The Oaks Card Club is a historic California cardroom with roots dating back over 100 years to the late 1890’s. The Emeryville card club, located in the heart of the Bay Area, is licensed for 40 tables and is the place to play if you are looking for a fun, friendly environment with promotions galore.

Card Player columnist Matt Lessinger, who now works at Oaks, interviewed Oaks Lead Poker Floor Ed Rosario to find out why players that “Play It Smart, Play At Oaks.”

Matt Lessinger: It’s a pleasure to talk with you today, Ed. Tell us a little bit about how your career in the casino business got started, and how you came to be at the Oaks Club.

Ed Rosario: Thanks, Matt. I got my start in Puerto Rico when I was 15. They opened this new casino called “El Conquistador” on the east side of the island, right near where we lived. On opening day, my friends and family decided to drive over there and see if they were hiring. We thought we’d just be filling out applications. It turns out they were completely understaffed and wanted us to start working that day.

ML: But wait, you were just 15! You could work in the casino there at that age?

ER: Over there you can work at 15. Also, I wasn’t looking to work on the casino floor, I was applying for food and beverage. So right as we finished our applications, they put us to work, because they had a bunch of opening-day parties and many more guests than they anticipated. They also bought a small island off the coast, where they would take people on a cruise to have parties, so we had to take a boat over to the island to set up the parties before the guests got there. We stayed through the night, and ended up working more than 16 hours that first night! It’s not what we were expecting when we drove there.

ML: That’s an insane first day!

ER: Yeah, but I stayed with them for a year. Then two of my older brothers, who were working at the Bicycle Club and the Commerce Casino, suggested I come join them in Los Angeles. So I came to LA when I was 16, and starting working in the kitchen at the Bicycle Club. A year later I moved to the Commerce Casino as a busboy for the buffet. I did that until I was 21, when I began working as a bartender at the Commerce.

After a while I grew tired of bartending, plus I felt a little homesick. I thought my next move would be to head back home to Puerto Rico and help my father run his restaurant. But my brother who had been working at the Bike had moved up to Northern California to help open up the San Pablo Casino, and he thought there was a good opportunity for me there. Even though I still planned to return home, I decided to give it a try. I started out in 1998 as a chip runner, then after only two months they moved me up to the board. The official title was “Floorman Assistant.” Then I worked as a tournament assistant, and shortly after that I became a full-time floorman and also continued running the daily poker tournaments at the same time. Plus we had five or six big tournaments each year, and I helped run those as well. After 12 years at San Pablo, it became clear that I was probably staying in the Bay Area. (laughs) Once they eliminated their poker room, I came over to the Oaks Club in 2011 and the rest is history.

ML: You spend a lot of time working the board at the Oaks, and you make it look easy. I think perhaps players or coworkers take it for granted when you have the room running so smoothly.

ER: If you’re going to work the board and do it well, you have to be able to multi-task. There’s a lot of things going on at once. You could be getting a phone call at the same time as a player is putting their name up for a game and a dealer is calling out a seat. I’ve learned to always have my eyes on the poker floor, and even if I’ve got the phone to one ear, my other ear is listening to what’s going on around me.

Players come up to me all the time to have a conversation, and I enjoy talking with them, but they understand that I’m listening to them and to the room at the same time. It also helps that I’ve got a great group of coworkers, and we work together as a team to make the room run smoothly, which in turn makes each of us look better. Some people think that running the board is easy, but most of the players appreciate what it takes to do it well.

ML: It’s true that the players all have nice things to say about you. What is it about the way you treat them that leaves them with such a good impression?

ER: First of all, I love being at the Oaks, and I think they can sense that. The employees treat each other like family, and the players like the way we take care of them. I treat everybody the same, give them the same respect. I’ve earned a reputation as a hard worker and as someone that treats everyone fairly. Over time, the players have recognized that, and I think they’ve come to appreciate the work I do. Many of the players around here have known me for a very long time. They’ve been a part of my life when I got married, and they can also remember back in the day when I told them I would never get married! They knew when my two daughters came along, and of course it works both ways, I’ve gotten to know more about their lives as well. They’re really close to me. I’m thankful for the relationships I’ve built with my customers.

ML: You’ve been at the Oaks long enough to remember that we used to run very few promotions. Now we’re running promotions all the time! How do you feel about the changes that have been made?

ER: Oaks is evolving. We now have more customers than we’ve ever had, and with that new growth, it was the right time to offer something new. It started with the large bad-beat jackpots. We gave away $200,000 a few times during double jackpot hours, and that created a lot of excitement. Then we began giving away high-hand money every 30 minutes, and as a result we now have more tables in action at any given time. And now we’re doing these big giveaways at the end of each month, either large amounts of cash or sometimes we give away a car. The first time we gave away a car, I had never seen the place so packed! Every table was full with a list, and you could feel the anticipation throughout the room. It’s fun to be a part of that.

ML: What kind of feedback are you getting from the players?

ER: Oh, everybody likes the promotions. The more you play, the better your chances of winning, so many times it’s a way of giving back to our most frequent customers. You used to hear some grumbling from some of our old timers because they would try to find a way to complain about any change (laughs) but eventually they realized that the promotions were bringing in a lot of new players, and that was good for the game. And then once new people are here, they realize it’s just a really comfortable place to play, and many of them become our new regulars.

ML: You’re one of the main reasons why the Oaks is such a comfortable place, Ed. Thanks for your time. Before we go, tell us something that many people might not know about you.

ER: I used to play a lot of basketball, but more recently I’ve gotten into disc golf. A small group of us used to get together to go play, and once people heard us talking about it and how much fun we were having, the group quickly got bigger. Now many more coworkers and also some customers come join us, and it’s great for us to all have that common interest.

Before we finish, I just really want to thank John and Cole (Tibbetts) for giving me the opportunity to work here. This place is like family. The Oaks has been here a long time, and it’ll be here when we’re gone, (laughs) but I love this place, and I love the people I work with. I want to be here forever. ♠