Keep Card Rooms Out of Downtown

Posted by Nick Kump at Aug 23, 2011 03:26 PM |
Sacramento Bee 8.21.11

I'm agnostic about gambling. And I love me some high-powered political intrigue involving Mayor Kevin Johnson and big shots close to him.

So I couldn't figure out why it was unsettling to learn that some heavy hitters with close ties to Johnson were lobbying for more card room casinos in Sacramento.

It's a fascinating issue. Already, some other heavy hitters with close ties to Johnson are gearing up to push back on this development – push back hard.

If you don't like that, then you don't like Sacramento politics.

Though a former NBA superstar, it's doubtful Johnson has ever faced a full-court press like this.

On one side you have former Sacramento City Manager Bob Thomas and the son of former county Sheriff Lou Blanas. These are influential insiders with long ties to Johnson. They want the city to relax rules so that one day you might see a big casino on Auburn Boulevard.

Ready to fight back is the United Auburn Indian Community, owner of Thunder Valley Casino near Lincoln, the largest Indian casino in the region.

If Sacramento goes into the mega-card room business, the tribe and other interested parties may fund a November 2012 referendum aimed to scuttle such plans.

The tribe is also in deep with Johnson. It was the tribe's commitment to a $1 million partnership with the Sacramento Kings that was a key moment in Johnson's play to keep the Kings from leaving Sacramento.

Add Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and you have the most powerful developer in the region and also a longtime Johnson friend.

Records show that a group controlled by Tsakopoulos owns a downtown building mentioned in Friday's Bee as a possible spot for a card room.

What does Johnson do with his political fortunes caught in this vise? And is a dysfunctional City Council openly gerrymandering its own districts even capable of making a good call here?

Bingo! This is the problem here.

Though the card room issue is only at the committee level – and a downtown card room is only in the discussion phase – these are very dicey ideas for a vulnerable state capital resembling a Rust Belt city in every way but the weather.

Along with a high crime rate compared with other large California cities, Sacramento is afflicted with double-digit unemployment, dying businesses, a depressed housing market, political instability and 42 cops recently laid off.

In such a climate, with this council, bad decisions can be easily be made for faulty reasons. I'll sum it up in two words: card rooms.

Downtown Detroit has casinos, too. Downtown card rooms are often found in decayed cities you want to avoid. They often are trouble-magnets that symbolize bleak prospects and politics.

Hello? Sacramento? Is that what you want?

Do you want a card room right next to de Vere's Irish Pub on L Street between 15th and 16th streets?

I don't. That's right in the shadow of the state Capitol, and what kind of symbolism would that be?

Not to mention how this could negatively impact a terrific stretch of dynamic businesses that have enlivened the area across from Capitol Park.

Let's kill any talk of a downtown card room before it even gets started. And what of the potential for a big card room on Auburn Boulevard?

OK. But why do it unless there is a big benefit for Sacramento's general fund?

Right now, it's not clear that there would be. Without a straight line to economic benefits, this would only be about patronage – which is usually the entree for bad policy and the social problems it spawns.


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