Casino $155,000 Behind in Payments : Bell May Sue Poker Club for Fees, Taxes

Times Staff Writer

The City Council voted unanimously Monday to file suit against the California Bell Club card casino seeking payment of about $155,000 in taxes and fees owed the city since December.

The council also directed staff to find ways to trim this year's budget in anticipation of an $800,000 deficit--the result of an unexpected decline in the club's revenues since September.

Club financial supervisor Ebrahim Victory said Tuesday that he was "confident that (the city) will be paid before they even write up the complaint." Victory and other club spokesmen say the club is undergoing financial reorganization to bring in a "new management team."

Under the municipal code, non-payment of taxes is grounds for revocation of a firm's license to operate. The council stopped short of taking that step Monday but expressed frustration with what it called poor management practices at the club.

"I strongly believe that that club can operate at a profit," Councilman George Cole said, "(but) it's very obvious that it can no longer be done by the current management. I don't know how much longer we can tolerate it."

In an interview, Councilman Ray Johnson called the club's management "inept" and "woefully lacking. It's not doing the City of Bell any good for the club to be further and further into debt," he said.

The casino, which opened in August, 1980, as the only poker club in the Southeast area, paid between $1.8 and $2 million to the city in license taxes for several years before competition from newer clubs in nearby Commerce, Huntington Park and Bell Gardens drew customers away.

Convictions of several former general partners for their parts in a racketeering scheme at the Bell Club wrought havoc with the management, with no one officially in charge for months, club spokesmen said.

The club now owes the city license taxes totaling $132,000 for December and January, a quarterly business license fee of $22,000 payable last Dec. 31, and $1,000 in landscaping fees, city officials say.

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