Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Card rooms in Sacramento should get more, not less, oversight

A poker club is not just any other business. So city leaders are right to consider a new requirement that operators of Sacramento card rooms who want to relocate get a special permit and appear at a public hearing.

For the same reasons, officials ought to be cautious about loosening the city’s rules for card rooms.

Under proposals presented Tuesday to the City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee, betting limits would be lifted, the maximum number of gambling tables would track the state limit (about to go from 15 to 17), and tables would be officially allowed in bar areas. Owners of the four card rooms licensed in Sacramento are pushing these changes, saying it would help them compete with card rooms in Citrus Heights, Folsom and Rancho Cordova, not to mention Indian casinos.

Councilman Darrell Fong, however, questions whether there’s enough oversight, especially after a Police Department representative told the committee that it has been several years since it has gone out to inspect the card rooms. With Fong dissenting, the committee voted to send the proposals on to the state Bureau of Gambling Control and the city Planning and Design Commission. If they approve, the changes would go to the full council.

The issue of card rooms emerged with last year’s contentious move of Casino Royale from Auburn Boulevard to the Red Lion Hotel at Woodlake. Neighbors concerned about traffic and crime were upset to discover that City Manager John Shirey could approve the move without a formal public hearing.

In the wake of the controversy, Councilman Kevin McCarty proposed the special permit, which would mandate the public hearing plus an $8,000 fee. Card room operators then pushed for a broader review of city regulations, and mostly support the changes recommended by city staffers.

They disagree on a proposal that would allow an owner to control two of the four city licenses, but stop card rooms from locating within 1,000 feet of each other – a requirement designed to prevent a “mega club.” Rival card rooms claimed – and Casino Royale denied – that it eventually wanted to buy a second license and open a club next to its Woodlake site.

McCarty told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board that while his main interest is more input by the public and council members, he’s willing to look at the other changes.

Rightly, the city has been streamlining rules to make sure it’s not getting in the way of creating jobs. Some businesses, however, need additional scrutiny. In August, the council voted to require conditional-use permits for gun shops. Bars and drive-thru restaurants must get them, too.

Poker clubs clearly should be on that list. So when officials are about to give neighborhoods more voice, they shouldn’t give card rooms the leeway to worsen the very problems that residents are concerned about.