Bill on gambling limits heads to governor’s desk

A fight against betting limits imposed by the state on a local card room has landed on the governor’s desk after the California Assembly overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow city officials to remove betting limits at cardrooms.

The Assembly on Monday passed the bill by state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, that would remove wagering limits from a definition of expanded gambling by a 53-12 vote, with 15 members abstaining.

According to a legislative analysis from the Assembly Government Organization, the bill would allow the City Council or Board of Supervisors to determine the wagering limit in its jurisdiction. Under the current moratorium established in 1996, a city or county is prevented from increasing a wagering limit.

The bill’s success is good news for Colma and its Lucky Chances card room. In 2005, the state’s Division of Gambling Control said Lucky Chances, which had operated with unlimited betting since its opening in 1998, had to revert to a $200 limit established by voters in 1996 or violate the statewide moratorium on any expansion in gambling through 2010.

Colma receives roughly one-third of its $12 million budget from Lucky Chances revenue, which has suffered since the wagering limit was enforced. The city and the card room are fighting the state decision and city voters in April overwhelmingly authorized the council to raise the betting limits, despite state laws prohibiting such a move at present.

Officials at Artichoke Joe’s, Lucky Chances’ closest competitor, played a part in the current fight by bringing the lack of betting limits at the Colma facility to the attention of state regulators.

The Governor’s Office said it currently had no position on the bill that has taken the fight between the two gambling sites statewide, but Florez said he would “shocked” if the governor vetoed the bill.

Opponents to the Florez bill say it takes away the power of the people to vote on wagering limits in their town established by the Gambling Registration Act in 1984.

“This bill takes that safeguard out and allows a city council to enact a limit or remove a limit,” said Rev. James Butler, the executive director of the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. “It’s much easier to impact a city council with promises than it is an entire population.”

The California Attorney General’s Office backs the bill, said spokesman Tom Dresslar, because right now “there’s a hodgepodge of schemes at local levels.”

Speaker Pro Tem and state Senate candidate and Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/Daly City, Assemblymen Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, and Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, were present on the floor but abstained from voting on the Florez bill.

dsmith@examiner.com

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