If Sacramento card room rules loosened, city must keep close watch

When the Casino Royale card room moved to the Red Lion hotel, Woodlake residents were surprised and upset that a public hearing wasn’t required.
When the Casino Royale card room moved to the Red Lion hotel, Woodlake residents were surprised and upset that a public hearing wasn’t required. Sacramento Bee file

For some kinds of businesses, it’s a balancing act between making them available to patrons and protecting nearby residents.

Card rooms fall squarely into this category. So at the least, they should have to go through the same level of review as bars, mini-storage facilities and drive-through restaurants.

The proposal before the Sacramento City Council on Tuesday night strikes a reasonable balance – giving neighbors more say, but granting operators some leeway.

Under the proposed changes, card clubs that want to open, expand or move would need conditional use permits, a process that requires a public hearing. Sacramento’s current limit of four card rooms wouldn’t change, so the special permit would come into play only if an existing poker club wanted to expand or relocate, or if one of them closed and a new card room wanted to set up in a new location.

There is no specific restriction on how close one card room could be to another. To make crystal clear that the city doesn’t want a “mega club” – two poker rooms next door – council members should mandate that clubs be at least 1,000 feet apart.

On the other side, betting limits would be lifted, the maximum number of tables would go from 15 to 17 and one owner could own two card rooms. Operators say these changes will help them better compete with poker clubs in Citrus Heights, Folsom and Rancho Cordova.

An earlier draft sent last year to the state Bureau of Gambling Control would have automatically increased the number of tables to the statewide maximum, but when state officials rejected that move, the cap was set at 17.

This whole subject got stirred up in 2012 when the Casino Royale card room won permission to move from Auburn Boulevard to the Red Lion Hotel at Woodlake. Nearby residents were surprised – and angry – when they found out that the relocation could be approved by the city manager’s office without a formal public hearing.

City staffers say concessions to card room operators will not hurt the public. Still, if the city is going to grant them, then it must make sure that enforcement keeps up.

The Sacramento Police Department says it will respond to complaints but still isn’t doing regular inspections. The reason is a lack of resources, but with the improving budget picture, the department and council need to figure out a way to get this deterrent in place.

If people want to gamble with their hard-earned money, that’s their choice. It’s the city’s duty to make sure that the places where they congregate are reputably run and don’t cause problems for surrounding neighborhoods.