Card Clubs: Still a Bad Bet

Businessmen who operate poker parlors have been shopping Orange County cities looking for one financially hungry enough to open its doors to legal gambling.

Several months ago card club operators, without luck thus far, were shuffling their decks in the ears of Westminster city officials. Now they're in Stanton trying to get that city to become the only one in the county with card rooms.

What's keeping Stanton officials from telling them outright to take their game elsewhere is the estimated $2.5 million a year that the card clubs say they could put into the city treasury.

It's a tempting proposition. That amount is about one-fourth of the city's proposed budget for the 1987-88 fiscal year. But temptation, like gambling, is something the City Council should resist.

Every city could use more funds. One of Stanton's greatest needs is for more money for the Police Department. But it would be foolishly ironic for Stanton to get that money from gambling. If it did, some of those funds would no doubt be used to keep prostitutes out of Stanton. Police last year launched a successful seven-month battle that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to drive prostitutes out of the city. Does the council really think that the introduction of gambling wouldn't lure many of the hookers back, along with many other unwanted and unsavory characters?

And how could the council even consider welcoming the card clubs given the strong positions several council members took in their last campaigns? Mayor Sal Sapien, who was a leader in the fight against prostitution, ran on a reform platform aimed at improving Stanton's image. So did Councilmen Michael Pace and Paul G. Verellen. Can they and the rest of the council now abandon those principles strictly for the sake of more revenue?

The owner of a card club in Bell Gardens wants the Stanton City Council to put the gambling issue to voters and, if they approve, allow him to open a card club there. Why bother? The council was elected to make decisions, and this is one that the council should have no trouble making. In 1981 the council rejected a card parlor proposal, mainly on the recommendation of the police chief at the time who contended that the card parlor would bring an increase of crime. Nothing has changed. It's still a bad deal. Card club owners may argue otherwise, but experience backs the police point of view.

The card club operator seeking the Stanton election says there is a greater acceptance of gambling since the passage of the state lottery. Opening a poker club in Stanton would be another reason for greater acceptance of even more gambling, legal or not, as New York police learned when legal off-track betting was introduced there. Police reported that the legal gaming stimulated a 62% increase in illegal betting and attracted more mobsters to bookmaking.

The money Stanton could make from legal gambling would be offset by increased police costs and incalculable social ills that accompany gambling wherever it is allowed. Stanton doesn't need that. Neither does any other Orange County community.

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