[PROFILE] Leo Chu - Business Success
- Chrystal Park and Hollywood Park
By Jan Fisher
Executive Profile - An Interview with Leo and Ivy Chu
Leo Chu is the president of California Casinos Management Inc., and
Century Gaming, companies involved in ownership and management of
Crystal Park Casino and Hollywood Park Casino, respectively. While
checking into the Crystal Park Casino Hotel one night recently, I had
the good fortune to run into the affable Leo himself. It was nearly
midnight, but it did not surprise me to see Leo, as he works many 15-
plus hour days. He graciously accepted my interview invitation and we
agreed to meet in his office the next day. Following are excerpts
from our conversation.
Jan Fisher: Tell me about your background.
Leo Chu: I was born in Shanghai in 1942, and my family moved to Hong
Kong seven years later. In 1964, after earning a degree in textile
engineering from the Hong Kong Polytechnic College, I joined my
family-owned textile business and helped build it into a multinomial-
dollar export business with 3,000 employees and nine facilities.
JF: What brought you to the United States?
LC: My wife, Ivy, and I came here about 25 years ago to help a friend
with his failing women's clothing business. Once it turned around,
Ivy and I decided to start our own textile business. We manufactured
under the "Ivy" label. It was tough in the beginning and we worked
many long hours. We eventually built the business up to an annual
retail sales volume of more than $150 million and had an excess of
300 employees. In 1992, we sold the business to a Fortune 500
JF: Why did you decide to get involved with the gaming business?
LC: I like people and I like solving problems. Gaming is a real
challenge, one that I enjoy.
JF: What is your basic business philosophy?
LC: I believe it is important to hire a good management team and to
train the team to make the correct decisions - almost as if we were
one person making the decision. It is important to spend time to
teach them to represent me well and to think like I do, so that my
philosophy and wishes are carried out. I have always had an open-door
approach and I enjoy talking with my patrons, however, I try to never
undermine my managers. There is a delicate line between managing and
micro managing, and I try hard not to micro-manage.
JF: This must be difficult because I know you are a workaholic. I see
you here all the time. What is an average workday schedule for you?
LC: I like to be a hands-on manager who is visible to the customers
and employees. Ivy and I generally work from about 10 a.m. to
JF: Do you work at both properties?
LC: Yes, I divide my time between Crystal Park and Hollywood Park.
At this point in the interview, We were joined by Ivy Chu, Leo's wife
of 34 years.
JF: Ivy, I often see you on the work floor. What is your main
IC: I spend most of my time at Crystal Park. I am mainly involved
with such areas as employee relations, cashier procedures, and
JF: How do you like working in the gaming business?
IC: I find the people to be fascinating. We deal with so many
different cultures and ways of life. This business is never dull.
JF: Crystal Park seems to have gone through a major transformation.
At one time, there was a top section and it was the "tournament
capital" of Los Angeles. What is the direction at this point in time?
LC: Yes, we have gone through several changes. When I first bought
the casino, it had a very negative image. As you know, the previous
management closed down and many players were damaged financially in
the process. It is very difficult to rid a property of a bad
reputation, even though we were not responsible. I did not change the
casino name, and that made people think that perhaps the management
was the same. This is not the case, but still today, many players
have negative thoughts about the casino. In the beginning, we were
putting on so many promotions that we were losing a great deal of
money. We have shifted the emphasis away from high-limit play and are
trying to assemble and rebuild the management team with an emphasis
on satisfying our low-limit players and our Asian game players.
JF: How many employees do you have?
LC: There currently are about 2,000 employees between the two
JF: Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
LC: Yes, I am working on a joint venture with the city of Compton.
There are about 40 acres behind Crystal Park that used to be an auto
mall. We are working together to build an entertainment center that
will have a concert facility, skating rink, and possibly amusement
rides. This should happen in about 12 months. Also in the works are
plans for acquiring another property. When this happens, you will be
the first to know!
JF: Best wishes for continued success in your future.
CRYSTAL PARK CASINO AND LEO CHU
COMPTON, Calif. -- It's Cambodian Dance Party Night at the Crystal
Park Casino, and the Cambodians are jammed into the ballroom. But the
Compton homeboys are scarcely aware of the music drifting their way
as they mill around the pool tables in their Kobes, buying rounds at
the bar, and chatting up the occasional unescorted female who is
brave enough to wander by. Farther away, in the raucous gaming area,
25 card tables are settling into a rhythm, with most of the noise
coming from the "California games" where Koreans, Vietnamese, Thais,
Mexicans, Chinese and French (yes, French) are yelling and pounding
the dice cups.
I can already see that on this night, like it or not, there is
karaoke in my future.
Welcome to the United Nations of casino gambling, the only card room
in California where a fourth of the players arrive by subway and
where English is the rarest language of them all. State-of-the-art
karaoke machines are mandatory.
Compton is not exactly famous as a tourist destination. It's better
known for its black gangs, Hispanic gangs, lowriders, hip- hop scene,
and cool street vibe.
But three years ago a Chinese-American businessman named Leo Chu
bought an Artesia Boulevard hotel and card room that had lost its
license, and ever since then there's been a tidal wave of tour groups
from China, France and Korea that do Disneyland by day and then
play "Super 9" (a pidgin form of baccarat) or "21st Century
Blackjack" (you try to make 22 instead of 21) all night.
"They're the same as any Los Angeles tour group," says Roberta
Sabbagh, who handles the marketing for Crystal Park. "They take the
Universal Studios Tour and all that. But they like being able to play
cards at night."v Roberta is a veteran of California card rooms,
having started out as a "chip girl" at the Normandie Casino in
Gardena 18 years ago.
"I'm fascinated by the history of these casinos," she says. "When I
worked as a chip girl, there were the Horseshoe, the Monterey, The El
Dorado, the Rainbow, and the Normandie, all in Gardena. And their
marketing was food. They had the finest dining. Gentlemen would go to
the races and then retire to the card clubs, and they all wore suits
and ties. You had to have jackets to get in. Today only two are left--
the Normandie and the El Dorado, which is now Hustler Casino."
The "fine dining" has made way for the inevitable cheap buffet (the
one at Crystal Park is above average). And the dress code has given
way to the chaos of multi-culturalism. The Crystal Park offers all
the traditional poker games--Texas Hold 'Em, 7 Card Stud, Omaha, and,
because of the neighborhood, "Poker Mexicano"--but the real juice
comes from the Asian games. "We don't call them Asian games anymore,"
she corrects me. "They're California games."
They offer not only Super 9 and Pai Gow Poker, but the inscrutable
and all-but-impossible-to-learn Pai Gow tiles. Since California card
rooms aren't allowed to bank games, the casino takes a commission
from each hand, and the winner is paid from the players' pool. (In
the higher limit games, the casino collects a fee every half hour.)
In the world of Southern California poker casinos, Crystal Park is
the ugly stepsister, hidden away in a remote part of the county,
rarely attracting the big players. And that's part of it's appeal. In
any game at Commerce Casino or Hollywood Park Casino (also owned by
Leo Chu), there are going to be pros at every table. Crystal Park has
more of a neighborhood feel, with retired people playing the day
shifts and working-class Joes coming in for the graveyard. ("No
matter what time it is," says Roberta, "we always have at least one
Hold 'Em game going and one California game.")
The casino offers a steady barrage of cash giveaways,
drawings, "lucky seat" promotions, "bad beat" payoffs and the like,
because these regulars tend to shop around go wherever the best odds
are. Crystal Park is also one of the few card rooms offering
a "frequent gambler" card. While you're sitting at a gaming table,
your card is scanned once an hour, and depending on your level of
play, you can redeem points for food, special events, or rooms in the
Crystal Park is the only casino within walking distance of a Los
Angeles Metro stop (Artesia station)--"and we're very proud of that,"
says Roberta. "We're offering free tokens and passes for people who
Obviously not a high-roller experience, but there's something laid-
back and kind of charming about the place. The decor is a festive
turquoise and purple and green, similar to what you would find in an
all-suites businessman's hotel, and the entertainment might be Thai
kickboxing one night, "Def Comedy Jam" type comedians another, and
Vietnamese traditional music yet another. Especially popular is "God
of Fortune" night, in which anyone seated at an Asian game is
automatically entered into a drawing for a prize of $668.
I have no idea.
It's a lucky number.
It's an Asian thing.
It's a Crystal Park thing.
Email Joe Bob Briggs, "The Vegas Guy," at JoeBob@... or visit Joe
Bob's website at http://www.joebobbriggs.com Snail-mail: P.O. Box
2002, Dallas, TX 75221.
© Copyright 2001 United Press International and Joe Bob Briggs
27TH ANNUAL LA CADILLAC LASALLE CLUB SHOW
The Crystal Park Casino Hotel was the site of this year's big show.
Located near the intersection of the 91 and 710 Freeways, this venue
proved to be popular with enthusiasts. Several hundred Cadillac fans
visited the show over the course of the day making it one of the best
attended in recent years. Half of those visitors were non-regional
members who learned of the event from increased advanced publicity.
This year a special edition of the C&W was sent to non-regional CLC
members living in the geographical confines of the SoCal boundaries.
Although this effort attracted few additional car entries, it did
bring in a fair number of spectators. The show was also advertised
in "Cars & Parts", "The LA Times" and "Miss Information".
All this resulted in the recruitment of around a dozen new regional
To take advantage of the hotel's large cobble stone roundabout with a
shady center island, the show was split. Twenty-two cars were placed
around the outer rim of the roundabout, and another forty-some cars
were parked along an adjacent drive of suitably wide dimensions.
Swap meet vendors were invited to this year's show, and although only
a handful set up tables, their wares were especially interesting. Two
large literature stands and displays by several old-car businesses
attracted plenty of attention. One was a custom chrome shop and
another was a woodgrainer.
Over 90 percent of the show cars at this year's event were pre-
registered. But on-site registrations on the day of show caused a
bottleneck. In the future, the board will probably move to limit
eligibility for judging and awards to pre-registered vehicles. Day of
show entries will be for display only.
This event was a special treat for everyone because of the generosity
and gracious hospitality of the Crystal Park's owners, Leo Chu and
his wife Ivy. Leo is a real car guy and a long time SoCal member. He
really enjoyed walking the show and meeting fellow Cadillac
The Crystal Park staff was especially attentive to our needs.
Catering provided coffee early in the AM and uniformed security
guards helped direct traffic and keep an eye on the vintage iron
throughout the day. The buffet luncheon in the Hotel's Diamond Room
was superb. Over 120 folks attended the luncheon which was followed
by an awards ceremony presided over by Director Skip Moore. One of
the highlights of the day was a talk by Mr. Chu about his career and
experiences as a life-long fine car enthusiast and collector. Leo
said his wife always tells people that her husband collects "used
Thanks to the many members who helped out at the show. Gary Falasco,
Tony Hiller, John Woodward, Steve Rostam, Danny and Sue Parrino, Paul
Cox, Ed Cholakian, Mike Dubos, Joel Shapiero, Julian Cangelosi and
Skip Moore are a few of the many volunteers who deserve special kudos.
It was an enjoyable event in every way. Of course it couldn't have
happened with out the continued support of the many members who
prepared and brought their historic Cadillacs and LaSalles. Thank you
one and all, and well done.