Hardie Enjoys Vindication as Casino Profits Return


It wasn’t long before George Graham Hardie felt the backlash after federal authorities seized the Bicycle Club on charges that it had been built with drug money.

Very few listened to his assurances that, as general manager, he had nothing to do with a scheme to build the casino with drug profits.

His mail was chock full of returned political contributions. Club profits took a small dive. Business deals slowed down. And the president of the prestigious Hollywood Park Turf Club told Hardie, a horse owner and large bettor, that his membership would not be renewed because of the scandal.

At the cavernous card casino in Bell Gardens, Hardie, 56, has earned a reputation as a man who enjoys being in control. Finally, last week, he found a little vindication to help him regain that feeling.


A federal judge ordered that the profits that had been withheld from Hardie’s partnership, Park Place Associates, should be distributed immediately. The order affirmed that Hardie and Park Place Associates, which owns 35% of the club, is innocent of wrongdoing.

“I just sort of got caught up in a web with everybody,” Hardie said. “It hasn’t been fair, and there is always frustration for things that happen that are out of your control.”

Hardie was 9 when he got his first taste of gambling. He and his stepfather would sit at the kitchen table for games of seven-card stud with Hardie’s 50-cent weekly allowance as the pot. “He liked to win the money back,” Hardie said. “And he did--for a while. But not forever.”

The boy was a quick study at those poker games, and to some extent, they dictated a great deal about the man Hardie would become.

A self-appointed leader of gambling causes, Hardie came into public view in California in the mid-1970s by leading a campaign to legalize dog racing. Today, he calls it the “dog racing debacle.” The measure was defeated by a landslide after Hardie refused to turn over campaign documents to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

The experience left him dismayed with politics, he said, so he ran for the state Assembly. He was defeated, but a pattern was established.

In 1987, after the Bicycle Club was successfully off the ground in Bell Gardens, Hardie began courting the desert town of Cathedral City. City officials gave him and his proposal for a card casino the cold shoulder.

Their attitude angered him, so he bought a condominium, moved to Cathedral City, and ran for City Council. He won. His colleagues appointed him mayor and, shortly thereafter, he resurrected his plans for a card casino, and got a measure on the ballot.

It was another debacle. Hardie became more of a campaign issue than poker. Critics called him a carpetbagger who tried to pull one over on the locals. In October, 1989, the measure was defeated.

Exactly one month later, Hardie’s name again appeared in the news. This time it was a flap over his plans to build a grand hotel and casino in National City. The fight with residents was short but vicious, and the issue never made it to the ballot.

Hardie’s setbacks haven’t deterred him, he says. People who are afraid of failure, he said, “are sitting at Denny’s drinking coffee, thinking about what they could have done.”

His longtime friend and business partner, Tom Kunisaki, said, “He works primarily for his survival, and survival to him means getting to the top of anything he puts his hands on.”

If ambition tends to make Hardie the object of much scrutiny, the Bicycle Club controversy was no exception. But he’s grown accustomed to it, he said. “I carry my own magnifying glass to hand to other people and save them the time.”