Senate bill would lift bet limits

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A bill currently on the state Senate floor has the power to sidestep a potential lawsuit between the state government and Colma’s Lucky Chances card room, but the casino’s attorney said the owners are still likely to sue if they don’t get their way soon.

SB 1198, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, would allow cities and counties to expand the wagering limits at their card rooms, something the state attorney general’s office argues is currently prohibited by a moratorium on expanded gambling in place until 2010.

The proposed change is very much desired by Lucky Chances and Colma, where residents voted last month to eliminate a $200 betting limit. That limit was imposed in December after a state ruling found that a City Council vote in 1999 to allow unlimited betting at the card room was invalid because it violated the moratorium and could not override a $200 cap set by a 1993 referendum.

Tax on Lucky Chances’ revenue with unlimited betting in place was expected to contribute around $3.7 million this year, a third of the city’s budget.

The card room will present the most recent election results to the state Gambling Control Commission within 10 days, attorney Michael Franchetti said.

If it does not allow Colma to lift the betting limits, the card room will sue regardless of the bill’s outcome, he said.

Even if the bill is approved, it would not go into effect until 2007, and Franchetti said they could win no-limits betting in the courts sooner.

Meanwhile, Colma has spent around $82,000 for lobbyist Rodney Blonien to rally support for the bill in Sacramento, but Franchetti said the card room has not come out as a backer of the bill.

The card room did contribute $6,000 to Florez in 2005, however, state records show.

Meanwhile, the manager of a card room with wagering limits in Florez’s home district said he is unaware of the bill.

Club One Casino in Fresno would also like to increase its city-imposed $200 limit, manager Jeremy Neuman said.

The state attorney general’s office supports the bill.

“We feel that there’s an inequity in the moratorium. There are several card rooms throughout the state, the majority, who have unlimited gambling. It’s a matter of fairness,” said Robert Lytle, director of the AG’s Division of Gambling Control.

The bill would also require that cities set limits rather than leaving the decision up to the casinos, Lytle added.

Opposition comes from Artichoke Joe’s, a rival card room in San Bruno with no wagering limits, and the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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