Move to Stay Abreast of Competition : Liquor OKd at Gardena Casino Tables

Times Community Correspondent

Despite opposition from two council members, Gardena's three card clubs have won approval to serve liquor to patrons seated at casino tables.

By a 3-2 vote, the City Council last week approved an ordinance that allows the clubs to serve alcoholic beverages to card players. Previously, the clubs could serve liquor only in restaurants adjacent to gambling areas.

The measure was sought by the Normandie Club. Club attorney Edmund Russ told council members that the ordinance was needed to keep the city's clubs competitive with others in nearby areas in Los Angeles County that already allow liquor to be served at their tables.

In the Southeast area, alcohol is now being served on the casino floors at the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, the Huntington Park Casino and the California Bell Club in Bell. It is not served at the Commerce Club in that city or the Silver Saddle Casino in Cudahy, the area's two other poker clubs.

Argues for Competitiveness

"We used to have more revenue coming from the card clubs than from any other source in this city," Russ said. "Do we want to keep losing clubs? Or are we going to allow the clubs to be competitive and keep revenues up?"

Russ, a former Gardena mayor, was referring to the closure in recent years of three card clubs in the city.

But Councilman Mas Fukai, a frequent critic of the clubs, expressed strong opposition to what he described as "three more 10,000-square-foot bars in this town."

"The biggest complaint that I have is crime" near the clubs, Fukai said. "And what we're doing here is contributing to that by serving liquor while they're playing cards. These people are going to be driving through our streets after they've been drinking.

"What are we actually weighing here--the survival of the card clubs versus the dangers to people in our community?"

Fukai was joined by Councilman Paul Tsukahara in opposition to the ordinance. Tsukahara said he was concerned that serving liquor at the tables might cause increased problems for police in dealing with intoxicated patrons.

However, Russ found support for the ordinance in the other council members--all of whom said they were confident that the conditions attached to the ordinance would provide adequate safeguards. Under the ordinance, drinks can be served only by card club employees to active card players seated at tables on the casino floor, and no complimentary or reduced-price drinks can be offered.

Councilwoman Gwen Duffy noted that a report prepared by Police Chief Richard Propster showed that since 1983, when the city decided to allow clubs to serve alcohol in their restaurants, the number of alcohol-related calls to police from casinos has not risen significantly.

Said Mayor Donald Dear: "I'm not sure this is the big watershed decision, because the decision has already been made in terms of having (liquor) in the restaurants. . . . As a council, we try to encourage business, and I see this as three clubs attempting to be competitive."

The ordinance becomes effective in 30 days. However, it will take longer--perhaps up to two months--before drinks will be served at the tables because the club owners must obtain conditional-use permits, city officials said.

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