Promoters Bucking Tough Odds : Westminster Officials Cool to Casino Idea

Times Staff Writer

Officials of the financially troubled City of Westminster said Monday that odds are against a proposal to build a card casino in their town.

The idea for a casino, which promoters say, might generate as much as $5 million in municipal revenue each year, was broached by two men who said they represent a Los Angeles-area card parlor. City Administrator Chris C. Christiansen said the men, Jack Smith and Kasey Swank, met with him and with Mayor Elden F. Gillespie last month.

"I'm opposed, and I would almost be 100% positive that a majority of the council would be opposed to the idea, too," Gillespie said.

Christiansen said one of the men said he represented the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens. The men were "only testing" whether the city would seriously consider such a proposal, Christiansen said.

"They made a preliminary introduction. Nothing official. As far as I'm concerned they're probing like any developer would. The mayor is against it, and I told them that such a plan wouldn't meet with city staff approval," Christiansen said.

Claim of Financial Backing

Christiansen said the two men indicated they had substantial financial backing to build a $20-million casino with a restaurant and bar near the San Diego or Garden Grove freeway.

The last card parlor operation in Orange County, in Anaheim, closed July, 21, 1981, after that city passed an ordinance making it a misdemeanor to play cards for profit.

Westminster has licensed about five civic organizations that conduct charitable bingo one night a week.

Despite the announced opposition, the promoters can still ask that the proposal be placed on the City Council agenda, or they can seek a ballot initiative.

"Is the idea dead? No. It's up to them to make the next move," Christiansen said. "I don't think the City Council would go for it, unless the people voted it in."

Neither Smith nor Swank could be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the Bicycle Club said that Jack Smith had worked for the parlor but had been terminated as a casino floor manager in 1985.

Police Chief Opposed

Westminster Police Chief Don Saviers said Monday that he was opposed to any gambling proposal because it could lead to corruption, prostitution and loan sharking.

"Whenever you have gambling, legal or otherwise, it creates problems for the community," Saviers said.

In addition, city costs would escalate substantially to create new agencies to oversee gambling operations, he said.

"If you allow one card parlor, you open the door to all," Saviers said.

Huntington Beach recently rejected similar attempts to build a card parlor. Stanton, which was approached by a different group last summer, also has been lukewarm to the idea of a gambling parlor.

Although Westminster has a severe budget crisis, Saviers said that gambling revenue "is not the solution."

Last year, the city considered the option of disbanding its police and fire departments and contracting for city services through county agencies.

And last September, in an attempt to increase revenue, the council imposed a 5% tax on utility customers. The increase is expected to raise an additional $2.5 million, enough, Christiansen said, to ward off a projected deficit in the city's $28.7-million budget.

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