Christopher Johnson is going all in on opening a poker business in Kennewick.
“It is a compelling game,” Johnson said. “Even a beginning player can do OK. It’s a fun game.”
Called Desert Bluffs Poker Club, his new business will be at 5215 W. Clearwater Ave., Suite 110, in Marineland Plaza in Kennewick, next to The Village Bistro.
Johnson, who has worked in digital marketing, is not sure of when the exact opening date is – it could be anywhere between now and January. But it’s happening, he said.
“I underestimated the number of people who have to weigh in on this,” he said. But at this point, he said he’s all in.
Johnson has been working with the local health department, state gaming commission, state liquor board and the city of Kennewick to get everything in order.
“At the beginning of 2018 this idea came into my head,” he said. “I just couldn’t let it go.”
The Covid-19 pandemic delayed plans, but Johnson, with his wife Heather’s blessing, has persevered.
“It’s been a journey,” he said. “When I started the process of trying to get it opened, I didn’t know how to navigate the permitting process.”
He admitted he should have hired an architect from the first day.
“I had a designer, and he was fine. But I basically decided to do more ambitious plans,” Johnson said. “There is just an expanse of paperwork, and now I’m all-in at this point. I have a soft spot in my heart for anybody who tries to go it alone in business ventures. My hope is that the community responds.”
More than 120 million people in the world play poker, with 60 million people playing poker in the United States alone.
It makes it one of the most popular card games in the world.
Johnson said he knows of about 50 home and private games that run every month in the Tri-Cities.
“Poker is a social game,” he said. “Look at the numbers. Recreational poker has been big for a long time. You use math and social skills. It takes a lot of skill to play poker. The game is pretty compelling. The World Series of Poker has shattered numbers with players.”
Forbes.com reported in July that there were a record 10,043 entries in this year’s main event.
Johnson was a dealer this summer at the Las Vegas games, spending seven weeks there where tournament organizers put him and other dealers up at the Rio Hotel & Casino.
He’s also dealt in tournaments at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino in Pendleton.
Johnson said that the state Gaming Commission gave him permission in mid-October to buy gaming equipment such as tables, chips and chairs.
“I have enough room for seven tables,” he said. “But I’ll probably start by opening three to five of them. We’re building our own tables. They cost about $5,000.”
The plan is for Desert Bluffs to be open four days a week.
“We’ll be closed Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” he said. “On Thursday and Friday, we’ll open around lunch time. On Saturday and Sunday, it’ll be 10 a.m. Each night, we’ll close when the last game breaks.”
Games set to be played are Texas Hold’em, Omaha, PLO and Big O. Johnson plans to host a number of tournaments.
The front entrance will have a double-entry door, giving it a speakeasy vibe.
The menu will be simple to start, as the club has two pizza ovens, four air fryers and a bar.
Johnson is looking for partners for local beer; T-shirts and hats; and restaurants that might want to take over the kitchen.
He’s looking to hire nine employees as dealers at opening, and some have already signed on.
“We’re also looking at one to two servers. I have the front of the house,” he said.
He plans for his workers to have a benefits package.
While he isn’t sure when exactly the place will be open, he’s been providing regular updates on his website.
He said the delays and setbacks will be well worth the wait.
“There are plenty of players out there,” he said. “Reaction has been unreal. I’ve got 100 people a month who have gotten on my waiting list. Our Facebook page has been getting a lot of likes.”
There is no turning back, he said.
“I signed a lease in July so at that point, it was damn the torpedoes and cross the Rubicon,” Johnson said.
Deal the Tri-Cities in.
search Desert Bluffs Poker Club: 5215 W. Clearwater Ave., Suite 110, Kennewick. Contact: 509-767-6537; Chris@desertbluffspoker.com; desertbluffspoker.com.
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