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All Decked Out

Wanting a plush place to play cards, Larry Flynt opens the flamboyant Hustler Casino in Gardena.

August 17, 2000|DIANNE BATES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Democratic conventioneers looking for a diversion after all that grueling flag waving and silly hat wearing might head down to the Gardena hangout of one of the party's biggest fans. Larry Flynt added some fun to the Monicagate imbroglio when he uncovered not-so-nice stuff about some Republican bigwigs and, pretty much without asking anyone, fed it all to the drooling news media. When Larry wants to do something, he just does it.

So when Larry wanted a place to play cards--someplace nice, where high rollers could feel as comfy as they do in Vegas--he had to create it. Hence, the Hustler Casino.

Located on the site of the former El Dorado Card Room, the $35-million casino is a startling change for a community known for its rather down-in-the-dumps card rooms. The exterior is a whimsical, bright creation of terra cotta tiled walls dotted with neon circles that flash invitingly to passersby.

Once inside the building, the design fun starts. According to Marketing Director Al Underwood, Flynt had strong opinions on the interior. On paper, Flynt is just the casino's landlord; The business is owned by his attorney Alan Isaacman (played by Ed Norton in "The People vs. Larry Flynt"). But Flynt's touch is everywhere, from the Hustler-heavy gift shop run by his wife, Liz, to the Gustav Klimt knockoffs on the red velvet walls.

Between the huge oil paintings are 18 gilt-framed TVs, broadcasting nonstop sporting events. The furniture is mostly French provincial with upholstery in purple, yellow and red, and the abstract carpet echoes the furniture colors. Other walls are deep maroon wood, and the restaurant features mosaic walls with Venetian-type lamps. The high casino ceiling resembles the underbelly of a spaceship, and the whole room surrounds an outdoor smoking circle, the dome of which opens to the stars. And that's just the first floor.

Upstairs, the look changes radically. Here you'll find the best-looking sports bar in L.A. A backlighted circular marble bar is the main focus in a room filled with luxurious modern green booths. As in all area bars, alcohol is not served between 2 and 6 a.m.

Any one of the many design themes might have worked by itself, but together they are slightly jarring. Yet the gaming is so intense that no one notices. There's an excitement to the place, a bracing tension.

Noticeably absent is the clatter of slot machines and loud talk typical in Las Vegas. The only machines at Hustler are ATMs. Instead, there is the quiet talk of people who mean business when they play cards. Underwood wouldn't give names, but sports stars, celebrities, radio personalities and lots of Flynt's friends come to play. Flynt makes an appearance about three times a week to sit at a back corner table.

If you think you're going to see a lot of flesh at Hustler Casino, think again. The female wait staff is attired in outfits modest enough for the Amish--that is, if the Amish would ever serve alcohol at a gambling house owned by the king of porn. The ruffled skirts open in the back to reveal little ruffled shorts. Definitely unprovocative--but the Flynt publications available in the gift shop take up the erotic slack.

Small Amenities

Customers keep the place jammed on weekends, playing a variety of card games: $40 to $80 poker games, Texas Hold 'Em, low ball, seven card stud, and California (formerly called Asian) games: Pai Gow and Super Pan 9.

Of course, the really high rollers still fly to Las Vegas, but Hustler offers amenities to keep customers coming back. Carwashes, shoeshines and tableside neck massages may ease the pain of losing.

Because of the feds' scrutiny of Flynt, activities at Hustler Casino are so aboveboard that the place seems almost puritanical. Underwood was nervous as he denied that typical gambling hall goings-on happen at Hustler Casino. He may have been telling the truth. But then, I'm not sure I'd recognize a Gardena hooker if I saw one.

Hustler's overall impression is like any nightclub or bar, except that the tips are probably better and the customers are more interested in making money than whoopee. For my money, it's the coolest 24-7 joint in Gardena.

BE THERE

Hustler Casino, 1000 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena. Open daily, 24 hours. 21 and older. (877) 968-9800.

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