THERE'S NO SHORTAGE of healthy and wholesome ways to spend your free time and spare cash in Seattle. But if you're a card player or


Gambler's Holiday

Blowing cash and fueling the soul at Greater Seattle's temples of wagering.

THERE'S NO SHORTAGE of healthy and wholesome ways to spend your free time and spare cash in Seattle. But if you're a card player or gambler seeking a little action around town, you're looking in all the wrong places. "Seattle's casino," as the Drift On Inn Roadhouse calls itself, is in Shoreline. Likewise, the "Seattle Strip," a mingling of four casinos, runs all of two blocksin Tukwila.

Prudish, legs ever crossed, Seattle has no casinos or card rooms. They were exiled in the wake of a kickback and payoff scandal four decades ago embarrassingly, one of the city's illegal scourges back then was bingo, no less. Other than the occasional raffle, neighborhood poker game, or scratch ticket, the best way to throw your money away this summer within Seattle city limits is on punch boards and pull tabs (the push/peel numbers-matching games offering posted prizes of up to a few hundred dollars).

Better you should head south for an outer King County road trip to the casinos and the track. Mini-casinos have been around since 1997, and more than 75 houses around the state offer up to 15 tables for house-banked card games with $100 betting limits. Freddie's Club in Renton (111 S. Third St., 425-228-3700) is the state's top non-tribal casino in gross receipts: $11 million last year. Blackjack, poker, and stud, plus variations on these themes, are among the house's 15 table games, dealt by what Freddie's claims areall together now"the friend-li-est deal-ers in town." (It's a small town.)

Nearby is Diamond Lil's Cardroom (361 Rainier Ave. S., 425-255-9037). In operation since 1976, Lil's specializes in tournament action and, like many other clubs, features Texas Hold'em, a "community card game" in which some cards are dealt faceup in the middle of the table and shared by all the players, and two more are dealt to each player facedown. (In Las Vegas, card legend Amarillo Slim once told me Texas Hold'em was a "ladies game" for parlor players. "But I take money from ladies.")

In South King County, you are inexcuse my grandiositythe mecca of local gambling. Within minutes of either side of Interstate 5 are a dozen card room/mini-casinos, a tribal casino, and Thoroughbred racing; a complete casino list is available online at (The Moonraker in Kent, by the way, does not have "two slot machines," as some online sites report. Not being a tribal casino, "that would be flat-out illegal," says a bar spokesperson.)

The budding "Seattle Strip" in Tukwila, just north of Southcenter Mall in the 13000 and 14000 blocks of Interurban Avenue South, offers a kind of one-stop shopping for gamblers, with four options for risking your money: On the west side of the street, the Golden Nugget (206-244-5252) has a half-dozen gaming tables, and its sister mini-casino, the Silver Dollar (206-241-9526), has twice that; they're friendly rooms with lots of regulars. Across to the east is the venerable Riverside Inn card room, a landmark gaming house that was closed during constructionnow completeof the Grand Central Casino (206-244-5400) next door. The aged Riverside (reopening date yet to be determined), a long, one-story building with a corrugated metal awning, is a funky contrast to the neo- Vegas Grand Central, which sports a Big Apple motifcityscapes on its walls, a Statue of Liberty guarding its entrance. As a brochure promises, "Once inside . . . you will have the illusion of being in the middle of New York City in the 1940s." The setting includes a restored 1946 flatbed Chevy pickup that doubles as a salad bar in the Ripe Tomato Bar & Grill.

The Grand Central offers impressive scenery, opening onto a spacious, low-lit casino area. (General manager Doug Evanson says developers made frequent trips to Vegas to steal ideas.) Down a hallway is Broadway Joe's Nightclub and banquet room, with live entertainment. Jackpots up to $150,000 are possible at the Grand Central's 15 tables, Evanson says. I visited on the same day the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln returned from the Gulf to its home port in Everett. At the table with Evanson was one of the sailors, still in uniform. "He came right here off the ship, first place on his list," Evanson laughed.

At this point, having dallied only a bit at the blackjack tables, I was down $20. I fixed that by sailing down the West Valley Highway to Emerald Downs in Auburn and dropping another $30 on a Wednesday simulcast Thoroughbred racing on TV from Belmont, Pimlico, and other U.S. tracks. The Downs (just off Valley Highway at 15th Avenue Northwest, 253-288-7000) provides live racing Thursday through Sunday. Admission is $4 with parking ranging from free to $7. Novices should go to the track Web site ( and click on First Time Race Fans, which explains all the standard and exotic ways you can part with your money.

It was still early when I tapped out. But the Muckleshoot Casino (2402 Auburn Way S., 800-804-4944), one of the state's 17 resort-styled, cash-cow tribal gambling pavilions, was only minutes away, southeast of Auburn. I would have a choice of card games, craps, baccarat, roulette, and 2,000 slot machines that will accept everything from a penny to a dollar. There's video poker and video keno as well. The casino, whose table limits range up to $500, claims it pays out a million dollars a week. None of it went to me on my last few trips there . But what the hey, I've got the night, and they've got ATMs.

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