Colma hedges bets on gambling rulingBy Matthew Artz
City officials are scrambling to keep high-stakes gamblers and the millions they contribute to city coffers from fleeing the city's lone gambling establishment.
The City Council will review an ordinance Wednesday to mandate $200 betting limits, as directed by the State Division of Gambling Control, at the Lucky Chances Casino -- Colma's single largest tax revenue generator.
But the council will also consider a possible lawsuit to overturn the gambling division's ruling, which city officials fear will cost it 15 percent of its annual revenues.
"Needless to say, this would significantly impact our budget," City Manager Diane McGrath said. She maintained, however, that Colma would still manage to pay off a 2003 voter-approved $24 million construction bond measure backed by anticipated casino revenues.
Operating without betting limits since it opened in 1998, Lucky Chances, a cardroom, grosses more than $10 million annually. This year, it is anticipated to generate nearly $4 million in tax revenues for Colma, according to officials. Lucky Chances' attorney, Michael Franchetti, estimated that revenues would shrink 30 percent to 40 percent when $200 betting limits go into effect this week on games such as Texas Hold'em, a form of poker. McGrath estimates the impact would be $1.8 million in total lost revenue.
Colma's loss could be San Bruno's gain. The city is home to Artichoke Joe's, an 84-year-old cardroom that under San Bruno law offers unlimited betting on several games. After hounding state regulators for years about Lucky Chances, Artichoke Joe's attorney, Alan Titus, succeeded in winning a ruling that Colma's ordinance allowing for no-limit betting violated state law.
At issue is a 1996 state law that imposed a moratorium on expanding gambling in cities. When the law went into effect, Colma mandated a $200 betting cap. But right before Lucky Chances opened, the Council amended the ordinance to allow no-limit betting.
"The ordinance change violated the moratorium," said Nathan Barankin, spokesperson for the gambling division.
Instead of filing a lawsuit, Colma could choose to lobby state lawmakers to change the moratorium, which expires in 2010, or call an election on a new gambling ordinance. City officials say they are unsure if a "yes" vote to end betting limits would override the moratorium. However, if Artichoke Joe's challenged a voter-approved no-limit betting ordinance, Franchetti said, Lucky Chances could offer no-limit betting while the case worked its way through the courts.
Copyright ©2005 Peninsula Examiner. Published 12/13/2005.