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RACK 'EM! : Pool Halls Shoot for an Image Uncluttered by Smoke and Shadow

April 28, 1988|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times Staff Writer

"We have a lot of hustlers here," Wallace said. "There's nothing wrong with the hustlers because they're here to play. . . . Your everyday hustler who's just doing it for enjoyment and trying to make a buck doing it, he's OK."

Judy Holt has a contrasting view.

She and her husband have owned their place about 10 years: "I don't need professional shooters in here," she said. "In the long run, they're bad for business."

Much preferred, from her viewpoint, are workers who drop by after their shifts, such as those from the nearby Northrop Corp.

Holt said that in the past few months, "we've had a huge influx" of Asian players, including people such as Vira Nhongvogsithi.

"I want to learn about pool," said Nhongvogsithi, who came to Orange County from Laos eight years ago. He and his friends "come in after work, and we usually come in on Saturday night," he said. He still rates himself as "just learning" the game.

In Los Angeles, billiards spokesman Paul Roberts reeled off statistics about the game: The Gallup Poll says pool is the No. 4 sports activity among men in this country, ranks as the No. 2 team sport and "has become the fastest-growing sport in America;" Q-Biz magazine reports that pool room retail sales of cues and other items were up 48% last year; sales of pool tables, many of them to private homeowners, were up more than 65% in 1987.

"Billiards is definitely booming right now," Roberts said. "More people are passing through the door than ever before. . . . Celebrities are playing it. Pool is becoming cool for whatever reason. . . . It's continuing to grow. We don't see any plateau here."

But if pool has boosted business for Hollywood by providing the story line for "The Color of Money," and if the movie returned the favor by sending couch potatoes to pool halls, Roberts has his sights set on another entertainment medium: television.

Some corporate sponsorship, a few wizards of the cue playing in tuxedoes or evening gowns, and the money can roll in even faster, he figures.

"Billiards has become the No. 1 spectator sport on television in England, with over 385 hours of programming and ratings that rival the royal wedding," he said.

In an interview with Q-Biz, Roberts said pool rooms will know that they've arrived "when we are on the cover of Time or Sports Illustrated."

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