The high rollers of Sacramento poker are in a turf war.
Aiming to tap into out-of-town cash spent by hotel guests, the owners of the Casino Royale card room have asked the city for permission to move their operation from Auburn Boulevard into the newly branded Red Lion Hotel Woodlake off Highway 160 in North Sacramento.
The group involved with Casino Royale includes some politically connected local names. The son of former Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas is part owner of the casino. Former Sacramento City Manager Bob Thomas serves as a consultant.
Their relocation plan worries some residents of the nearby Woodlake neighborhood, who express concerns about crime and traffic. And it has a rival card room operator pleading for more city scrutiny of the proposed move.
Most of the pushback stems from a concern among other gambling interests that Casino Royale is looking to move into a larger space so that it can one day co-locate its facility with another card room to form a large 30-table casino.
City ordinances prohibit the location of multiple card rooms at the same address. The Casino Royale owners said they have no intention of trying to purchase one of the city's three other card room licenses and move that operation to the Woodlake site, as some other card room owners have alleged.
"What we want is to be able to put our patrons up in hotel rooms," said Jim Kouretas, a Casino Royale partner. "That is what these local clubs need a shot in the arm from people carrying money from other areas."
The suspicion stems from expectations in the card room community that the owners of the Limelight Bar & Cafe card room on Alhambra Boulevard will sell their license. Limelight co-owner Barbara Mikacich confirmed that she and her husband are considering selling their license or moving to south Sacramento. She said she is not interested in moving to the Red Lion.
Rival card rooms and the Thunder Valley Casino aren't satisfied.
"(Casino Royale is) trying to bully and bluff, which is perfect given their industry," said Doug Elmets, spokesman for Thunder Valley. "(Moving to the Red Lion) makes no sense if co-location isn't the end game. This is an attempt to expand."
Tracey Buck-Walsh, an attorney representing Capitol Casino on North 12th Street, said the card room's owner underwent intense city review years ago when he moved from Del Paso Boulevard. She said he's afraid the Casino Royale move is a done deal, and wants further scrutiny.
"He just wants a level playing field," she said.
It's up to City Manager John Shirey alone to decide whether the Casino Royale can move. Zoning regulations in the area allow it, and since poker rooms in the city don't need conditional use permits, the City Council can't call it up for review.
"When I hear from business people in town, the complaint I hear the most is the city is overregulated, that we are bureaucracy-bound, that we're slow, that we're business-unfriendly," Shirey said. "So I think to myself, do we want to make it hard for yet another business to do business in Sacramento?"
Some Woodlake residents don't want the casino near their neighborhood, even if the Red Lion sits across a freeway from their tree-lined enclave. A survey conducted by the Police Department found that 45 of 67 respondents objected to the plan, with most citing worries about increased traffic and inadequate security.
Bill Farrell, the president of the Woodlake Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood has a strong connection to the hotel which also serves as a concert venue and feels a bit overmatched in this game.
"These are the power elite in Sacramento," he said of the Casino Royale group. "They're not new. They know how the system works."
Shirey said he is sensitive to the neighborhood's concerns. But he's also worried that some residents aren't being given good information, noting that some were told the card room "is going into the heart of their neighborhood."
As for the complaints from the Capitol Casino group that their card room endured more public scrutiny of its move to North 12th Street, Shirey said, "Just because we were business-unfriendly to them doesn't mean we should continue to be unfriendly to other businesses."
Kouretas argues that the complaints are unwarranted.
"So the competition doesn't want more competition," he said. "Well, I'm sorry. That's the American way."