Bill easing card room restrictions moves forward

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Legislation helping out card rooms and casinos, including Lucky Chances in Colma, showed a strong hand Wednesday when an Assembly committee passed it by a wide margin.

Senate bill 1198, which passed the state Senate 23-8 earlier this month, was approved yesterday by the Assembly Government Organizational Committee by a vote of 12-2. Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/Daly City, was one of two dissenting votes on the committee.

“The reason being [for the dissenting vote] is that they’ve broken the law for a number of years and this is a way for them to get out of their responsibility,” Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said.

The law Keigwin referred to is a 1996 moratorium on increased gambling. Colma’s City Council eliminated a $200 betting limit at Lucky Chances in 1998 before the casino opened but was forced to reinstate it after the Department of Gambling Control determined the higher limits were illegal in December 2005. That decision was driven largely by complaints from rival card room Artichoke Joe’s in San Bruno.

In response, the city held an April 11 election in which voters approved the removal of the betting limit, and Lucky Chances officials have said they are likely to sue the state if they cannot win a reversal of the decision.

Michael Franchetti, attorney for Lucky Chances, said SB 1198 is an attempt to remove a number of card rooms statewide from a legal bind that could see their licenses revoked. The bill would allow card rooms and casinos to raise the maximum wager by excluding it from the definition of “illegal gambling expansion.”

Current law, he said, requires that in order to obtain a license the card room must operate within a jurisdiction that establishes wagering limits.

At least 30 card rooms statewide, he said, are located in cities or towns that delegated the wagering limits to the owner of the casino, which essentially means no limit was established. Those jurisdictions, under a strict interpretation of the moratorium, Franchetti said, can’t change their ordinances to establish a wagering limit because any change from that undefined limit — which the card room owners created — is construed as an “expansion of gambling.”

“The card rooms are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Franchetti said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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