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Dennis Bowen works on a poker table at BBO Poker Tables in Pittsburg, Calif., on Friday, May 31, 2013. While the tables themselves are made in China, the custom finishing and upholstery work is done at the company's Pittsburg warehouse. The company, founded in 2006 now provides poker tables and multi-use poker tables to players all over the world. One of the features of BBO Poker Tables is the availability of personalized custom playing surface graphics done in house. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

PITTSBURG -- George Chao's company has become a player in the poker world.

His company -- BBO Poker Tables -- provides custom-made tables to card players from all over the globe who play the game.

"The premise for this came over a bowlful of noodles with friends," Chao, a 30-year-old Pittsburg resident, said in recalling the ah-hah moment that prompted him to start the business in 2006 with $2,000 in savings.

That ah-hah moment grew out of frustration he ran into while trying to buy a mid-priced poker table online.

"There wasn't anything I would purchase. It was either $200 or $10,000," Chao said.

The tables made by BBO, which sell in the range of $499 to $1,600, are pre-assembled in a factory in China. The finishing and upholstery work is done at the company's Pittsburg warehouse, where seven people work processing orders and hand-finishing tables.

"The key was to leverage technology and the Internet to make up for the lack of capital starting up, but as things are starting to stabilize, I've realized that a successful organization really starts with people, and I'm grateful to have such a great staff developing out the foundation," he said.

"Poker for the People" is the slogan for the strictly e-commerce company, which does not have a brick-and-mortar showroom. Customers range from casual poker players to movie stars, athletes and some small and mid-sized casinos, including Thunder Valley east of Sacramento.


Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Chao moved with his family to Antioch when he was 8 years old and graduated from Antioch High School in 2000. He played poker while attending the University of California at Irvine, from which he graduated with a degree in economics in 2004.

Two years later, Chao started BBO (the BB stands for Big Blind -- an opening bet in a poker game -- while the O stands for online).

In 2009, sales slipped in response to a slowing economy. So the company adapted and started selling poker tables that could double as dining sets, creating a hybrid poker/furniture niche. That move got them onto TV shows like DIY Network, HGTV and Style Network. This year, BBO expects to sell more than 2,000 tables worldwide, including 1,500 in the United States, while racking up $1.7 million in sales.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on