City Beat

Poker rooms face tougher scrutiny in Sacramento

The city of Sacramento is considering a new layer of public oversight for poker clubs seeking to move following the controversial relocation of a club into a north Sacramento hotel.

The City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee will debate a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would require relocating card clubs to apply for a conditional-use permit. That restriction would require the owners of the facilities to pay an $8,000 permit fee and appear before the city’s planning commission in a public hearing.

As it stands now, the decision of whether to approve a club’s application to move rests with the city manager and does not involve a formal public hearing. That arrangement came under scrutiny last year when the Casino Royale won approval from City Manager John Shirey to move from Auburn Boulevard to the Red Lion Hotel at Woodlake.

Many other businesses in the city are required to apply for conditional-use permits before opening, including mini-storage facilities, drive-through restaurants and bars.

City staff is proposing several other changes to card-room oversight, including removing betting limits, increasing the number of tables allowed in clubs and requiring a 1,000-foot buffer between such establishments, a requirement intended to avoid the co-location of two card rooms into one “mega-club.” Individual club operators would, however, be permitted to own two of the four licenses currently allowed in the city.

The proposed rules match many of the regulations placed on card rooms in Citrus Heights, Folsom and Rancho Cordova, city officials said.

Councilman Kevin McCarty, who proposed the special permit restriction, said the move of Casino Royale “raised legitimate questions and issues.”

“(Card rooms) make sense in some areas and maybe not so much in others,” he said. “It’s a legitimate question of should there be a public process for the relocation of a card club, and I think there should be.”

Officials said the four card-room operators in Sacramento are generally supportive of the proposed changes.

Clark Rosa, who runs Capitol Casino on North 16th Street, said he is particularly supportive of the provision on conditional-use permits. Rosa was a vocal opponent of the relocation of the Casino Royale, joining some residents of the nearby Woodlake neighborhood in challenging the move.

“It shouldn’t be left up to one person to make a decision on things like that,” he said. “Card rooms have impacts on residential areas and businesses because we’re open 24 hours a day.”

Representatives of Casino Royale could not be reached for comment. The casino’s ownership includes William Blanas, the son of former Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas, and prominent Sacramento attorney James Kouretas.

A spokesman for Thunder Valley Casino, which has lobbied for tougher regulations and more strenuous enforcement of card rooms in the city, said the proposed changes don’t go far enough. Casino officials want card rooms to pay a fee to fund tougher city oversight and oppose doing away with betting limits.

“The state has done a horrible job of regulating card clubs, and the city of Sacramento has no idea what’s going on inside of these card rooms,” said Doug Elmets, a spokesman for Thunder Valley.

Rosa said his club faces intense scrutiny from state gambling officials.

“Indian casinos want to put the card rooms out of business,” he said. “We’re under such a rigid eyeglass from (the California Gambling Control Commission). Nowhere else is it like it is here.”