Colma residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of eliminating betting limits at their city’s sole card club on Tuesday, setting the town and the casino up for a possible legal fight against the state.
Voters approved Measure R by a 215-27 margin and reinstated no-limit betting in the town at Lucky Chances, a card room owned by Atherton resident Rene Medina.
Colma instituted no-limit betting in 1998, when the card room was approved, but the state attorney general ruled in 2005 that the change from a $200 limit approved in 1992 was not valid without a vote of the citizens. Now, it is up to the state Gambling Control Commission to decide if the vote clears the way for high-stakes betting, or if the town remains in violation of a 1996 moratorium against expanded gambling.
If the commission rules against them, Colma and Lucky Chances plan to sue the state, card room attorney Michael Frachetti said.
Colma has a lot riding on the game. The town, which offers free cable, public recreation, day trips and other perks for its 1,410 citizens, typically receives around one-fourth of its budget from the card room, and stands to lose nearly half of that money, officials said.
"I think it will help the town, the revenues," said 28-year resident Efram Ramos, 59, after visiting the polls. "Before [the club opened in 1998], this town was kind of quiet. Not many people were employed."
Resident Franco Carson, 52, said he thought opponents of the measure didn’t like Lucky Chances’ success, and noted the new police station would not have been built without the card room money.
Opposition has mostly come from Artichoke Joe’s, a card room in San Bruno with no betting limits. Dave Hyams, a spokesman for Artichoke Joe’s, argued Colma needs to follow state law, which places a moratorium on expanded gaming, including betting limits, through 2010.
The $200 restriction does not actually limit a person to betting that amount. In the "Gold Room" for high-stakes double-hand poker at the club, bettors can wager up to $10,000 in $200 increments on multiple squares on the table, Lucky Chances staff said.
"It’s not that bad," said Fairfield resident and Lucky Chances bettor William Price, 29. "That’s how they do it at Lucky Derby in Sacramento. $200 is plenty."
The limit has cut hundreds of thousands in revenue for the month of January, however, Franchetti said. The limit reduces the "drop" bettors are willing pay to sit at the tables, which is how the club makes its money, and drives off high-stakes bettors, he said.
The club is currently operating on a provisional license. The GCC will review its license andwhether it is complying with the limit April 20.