Here are two hidden poker gems in the Inland Empire

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When thinking of Southern California poker most don’t imagine Inland Empire, but they should. There are several casinos near my home in Riverside that offer a wide range of games and tournaments with player-friendly atmospheres. Here are two of my favorites:

MORONGO CASINO: Park in the covered garage, take the elevator and you’ll pop out right at the entrance. Step into the enclosed poker room and you’ll see they cater to players with a friendly, helpful staff. They have 21 tables, a convenient sign-up desk, dedicated restrooms and pagers so you can step out if need be and not miss your seat.

Duane Sandoval is the new manager, promoted in April. He has worked in the industry for 15 years in a variety of positions, all at Morongo in Cabazon. He got involved in poker when the Morongo tribe offered dealer classes to tribe members. Though he hasn’t actually worked as a dealer, it gave him a good starting base.

He has a player-centered philosophy. He believes working with his staff on their needs will help them be happier and provide a better experience for the players. He’s working on improvements to food-and-beverage service for the room and is adding a player-rating program.

PALA: Just south of Temecula a few miles east of Interstate 15, Pala opened its poker room in April 2009, again with the players in mind. It’s an open and inviting room with glass partitions to reduce noise. It has 15 tables, plus food-and-beverage service at the tables. The friendly and helpful staff makes you feel at home.

George Arsenis is manager, and he began his career in poker in 1996 as a dealer at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. He quickly became tournament director and created the Tropicana Poker Series. He also wrote the Tropicana poker rulebook and later became a shift manager.
From 2007-09 he was the manager for Mountaineer Casino in West Virginia, where Pala recruited him in 2009 to open its new room.

Morongo and Pala offer a wide range of games starting at $2-$4 limit. They offer a regular schedule of daily tournaments (See our Where to Play pages in the back of the magazine), and they offer plenty of player promotions.

Morongo has a high hand of the hour, double jackpots, Aces Cracked and full house/full tank.

Pala offers splash for cash, high hands, chase for the dough and morning splash pots.

So if you’re in my neighborhood and looking for a great place to play you can’t go wrong with Pala or Morongo.

— Kittie Aleman is Ante Up’s Southern California Ambassador. Email her at anteupkittie@gmail.com.