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Lungren Seeks Tough Limits on Card Rooms

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren on Tuesday urged lawmakers to approve a legislative proposal to impose tough new controls on California’s growing card room industry or face an increase in illegal activities plaguing card clubs.

“If we allow the gambling industry to become an under-regulated giant, we would be leaving our state open to a crime problem never seen before here in the state of California,” Lungren told a Capitol news conference.

Lungren was accompanied by police officials, including a representative of Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, who said lucrative card rooms are magnets for crime, including loan-sharking and money laundering.

Along with two Democratic lawmakers, Republican Lungren is pushing a bill to establish a seven-member gambling commission to license card rooms and set up a new bureaucracy in his department to investigate and keep tabs on card club activities.

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With pressure mounting for new clubs, especially in Los Angeles County, Lungren seeks to replace the current patchwork system of regulation in which cities authorize the state’s 265 card rooms and Lungren’s office investigates card room applicants. His three-member review staff faces a backlog of applicants who propose opening 525 new card tables statewide.

Lungren said one version of the proposal was approved 49 to 10 earlier this year in the Assembly, but stalled when opponents were granted reconsideration.

The measure has been criticized by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), who have complained about a special provision to limit new card rooms opening in Los Angeles County.

Lungren on Tuesday agreed to strip that provision from his measure. Instead, he would bar out-of-state casino operators from buying card rooms for two years, as a way to hold off an onrush of new clubs while the commission gets organized.

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Under Lungren’s counterproposal, Hollywood Park, one of the bill’s biggest backers, would be able to directly operate a new card room recently opened at its Inglewood racetrack. The law now bars such publicly traded companies as Hollywood Park from operating card clubs, so the track must lease out its card room.

Lockyer said Lungren’s proposal was getting closer to something that he could support. But he contended that the measure still was chock-full of “some goodies for every special interest in town.”


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