Bell Approves New Games at Card Club

Times Staff Writer

The City Council has voted unanimously to allow two additional card games to be played at the California Bell Club. Club officials estimated that the two games will generate between $1.8 million and $2.4 million a year in additional casino revenues.

The council vote will allow pai gow poker and pan-9 to be added to the four games already approved for play at the club.

The vote came after Bell-Cudahy Police Chief Frank Fording, who had previously questioned whether pai gow poker violates state gaming laws, told the council that the games could probably withstand challenges in court.

Fording raised his concern about the games in a letter to Bell City Administrator Byron Woosley last month. In the letter, Fording said pai gow poker--a spinoff of the domino-like game pai gow --violates both banking and percentage provisions of state law. Banking is a practice in which a player can bet against more than one other player and is illegal, according to the state Penal Code.


Judge OKd Similar Game

But Fording also said in his letter that because a Superior Court judge ruled in January that the American version of pai gow is essentially legal, it would be doubtful that pai gow poker could be declared illegal. Pai gow poker is played just like pai gow, but players are dealt four cards instead of four dominoes. Players then arrange the cards in one of several dozen combinations, which determine the winner.

Fording’s letter also said pan-9 appeared “to be on the borderline of legality” because it resembles other games that are outlawed in California.

The police chief said pan-9 is a hybrid of pai gow , baccarat and panguingue. Players are dealt three cards, each with a numerical value. The one whose hand totals nine or is closest to nine wins.

California Bell Club General Manager Sam Torosian said he hopes that adding the two games will earn between $150,000 to $200,000 a month in extra revenue for the financially ailing casino.

Four games are now played at the Bell Club-- pai gow , mah-jongg, lo-ball poker and panguingue.

Last month, the club added the Asian tile game mah-jongg and negotiated with the council to reduce the city’s share of the club’s revenue to 8% until March, 1986. The decrease, which replaced a sliding scale that had given the city about 13% of the club’s revenue, is expected to mean a loss of $210,000 to the city.

Profit Anticipated Soon

Leslie Garber, attorney for the club, said “it’s only a matter of time” until the club, which he said was on the verge of bankruptcy earlier this year, will begin to operate profitably.


Garber said between September, 1984, and March, 1985, the club’s gross monthly revenue decreased from $1.1 million to $490,000. However, since Torosian took over as general manager in March, the club’s monthly revenue has continually increased, reaching $700,000 in July, Garber said.

He also said the club has made a verbal agreement with the council to pay $290,000 the club owes in delinquent taxes. No specific date for repayment has been set, he said.