Joe’s again goes for fewer tables

Artichoke Joe’s, the city’s largest taxpayer, is applying for a fourth time to keep operating at its current, lower number of card tables rather than expand to its previous level as city officials expected — a delay that has left the city more than $462,000 short in annual revenue in recent years.

The San Bruno City Council is set to discuss and approve the company’s request for an extension of its agreement to stay at the lower number at its Tuesday meeting.

In 2000, the council approved a decrease in authorized tables from 51 to 38 that was meant to last through the completion of the BART construction to San Francisco International Airport. Artichoke Joe’s has annually requested extensions of this lower table agreement, citing difficulties in expanding back to the full 51 tables due to an “unfavorable business environment.”

The continued lower number of tables will put revenue at $462,100 less in gambling club taxes this fiscal year, based on 38 tables instead of 51. Before 2000, this extra money was used for capital improvement projects in the city, according to a city staff report. A city ordinance requires the casino to operate between 26 and 51 tables.

Artichoke Joe’s attorney Alan Titus said the combination of BART construction early this decade, rival card room Lucky Chances opening in Colma in 1998 and an uptick in Indian gambling facilities took its toll on business at the longtime San Bruno casino.

“We’re holding strong at 38 (tables),” Titus said. “We don’t want to decrease that number, but we don’t have plans to expand any time soon.”

Colma has also seen its card room tax revenue decrease recently. Lucky Chances consistently provided some $4 million annually, roughly one-third of the Colma budget, in gambling club taxes, town Manager Diane McGrath said. But in December 2005, the state’s Division of Gambling Control said that the card room’s unlimited betting contradicted the $200 statewide limit established in 1996.

This fiscal year, as a result of the crackdown, Colma took in almost $1 million less, and the drop-off forced the town to postpone some capital improvement projects, McGrath said. She expects that a bill going into effect in January, authored by state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, allowing cities and counties to set their own betting limits, will bring revenue back to previous levels.

Exact figures on total gambling revenue for the two casinos are not made public, as both are private companies. But card rooms typically owe an average of 12 percent of their total annual gambling income to the city or town in which they sit. Artichoke Joe’s is instead taxed on a per-table formula.

tramroop@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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