Foes Lambaste Effort to Change Sacramento Card Room Laws

From the Sacramento Bee - May 15, 2011

The presence of the elder Blanas and Thomas was assailed by Doug Elmets, a media consultant whose clients include the Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln, as a bid to change the card club rules using political favoritism.

"There's no question that these guys are well connected and they're capitalizing on their names and previous positions," Elmets said.

 

 

Sacramento's Casino Royale is lobbying city officials to change a local gambling ordinance to permit ownership of more than one card club – prompting a charge by competitors that the effort is intended to create a gambling destination of side by side poker rooms.

A hearing by a City Council committee June 7 may shed light on discussions by a struggling card club, the Limelight Bar & Cafe on Alhambra Boulevard, to sell its license to Casino Royale, an Auburn Boulevard club partly owned by the son of former Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas.

The effort is inflaming protests from competitors who are circulating a memo complaining they may be driven out of business by a "mega-card room" featuring the two clubs.

Sacramento's card club ordinance permits four clubs in the city – with 15 poker tables each – and bans ownership of more than one club. A fifth license, from a shuttered card club, is eligible for purchase by new owners.

City Revenue Manager Brad Wasson said he held a meeting recently with representatives for the four card clubs, Supervising Deputy City Attorney Matt Ruyak and officials of the Sacramento Police Department to discuss an ordinance to change club ownership rules.

Wasson said state gambling laws prevent card clubs from combining operations into a single business using the same managers and "in-house bank." But he said two card clubs can legally locate side by side "if we removed the restrictions that an individual can have an interest in more than one card room."

Wasson said officials have discussed allowing two card clubs to operate a total of 30 tables in bordering establishments with "possibly a restaurant and bar between them."

He said local poker room owners appear in agreement on changing ownership rules but sharply differ on setting distance requirements between card clubs.

Clark Rosa, owner of the the Capitol Casino poker room on 16th Street, proposed mandating that card rooms be barred from locating within a mile of each other. He said that could stave off a card club "super center" that would upset city policies against permitting a "gaming establishment as a center of attraction where gamblers from all areas come to play."

Barbara Mikacich, who owns the Limelight card club with husband Pete Mikacich, confirmed discussions to sell her business to the Casino Royale.

She said the other card club has been looking for a potential location for the two establishments "but this is a long way away."

"Right now, we're not going to do anything but wait for clearance with the City Council," she said. "And we're not at the City Council yet."

Jim Kouretas, an attorney who is a part owner of Casino Royale, vehemently denied it is working to create a multi-club gambling draw. Though he said Pete Mikacich "is a friend of mine and wants to sell his business," he said Casino Royale is negotiating a rent reduction at its current location – not a dual gambling establishment elsewhere.

"We have no plans to do that," Kouretas said. "I think anybody who would do that in this economy would be foolish. It's all rumors. We have no deal with the Limelight."

But an informal agenda for an April 14 City Hall meeting between card club representatives and city staff listed topics including poker room ownership and "co-location."

The meeting was attended by Lou Blanas on behalf of his son, Casino Royale partner William Blanas.

Also in attendance was former Sacramento City Manager Bob Thomas, who works with Casino Royale, and representatives of the Limelight, the Capitol Casino and the Lotus Casino on Stockton Boulevard.

The presence of the elder Blanas and Thomas was assailed by Doug Elmets, a media consultant whose clients include the Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln, as a bid to change the card club rules using political favoritism.

"There's no question that these guys are well connected and they're capitalizing on their names and previous positions," Elmets said.

Kouretas, who was also at the meeting, said card clubs in Sacramento and neighboring cities are struggling to survive with a major tribal casino in the region.

"Thunder Valley has dramatically changed the landscape. They have 16 tables and a 100-player waiting list when Sacramento clubs are sitting empty," he said.

In a February report to the City Council law and legislation panel, Wasson and city Finance Director Leyne Milstein wrote that state rules "allow ownership interest in more than one card room."

The report added: "It makes sense for the City of Sacramento to follow suit and adjust its code accordingly to allow for regional competition."

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