Colma considers unlimited bettingBy Matthew Artz
As a first step in its plan to restore unlimited wagering at the city's lone casino, the City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to hold a citywide election on the issue April 11.
A "yes" vote for no-limit gambling by Colma's roughly 400 registered voters wouldn't immediately reverse the $200 wagering limit at Colma's Lucky Chances Casino, but it would give the cardroom recourse to sue state regulators over the limit, according to its attorney, Michael Franchetti.
Last month, under orders from the state Division of Gambling Control, Colma rescinded its 1998 ordinance allowing no-limit betting on card games. The state ruled that the ordinance, which replaced a 1993 law establishing the $200 limit, was invalid because it violated a state moratorium restricting the expansion of gambling through 2010.
Colma, which takes in about 12 percent of the casino's earnings, estimates the $200 limit will cost it roughly $1.8 million a year in taxes. Fearing lost revenue, city and casino officials have sought to challenge the state ruling through means including the election is the first step, City Manager Diane McGrath said.
Rather than wait to place the measure on the upcoming June primary ballot, city leaders will pay for a special election on April 11, just nine days before Lucky Chances goes before the California Gambling Control Commission. The cardroom will ask the commission to remove a condition on its license, inserted last month, requiring Lucky Chances to maintain a $200 betting limit.
If the commission chooses to keep the condition, Franchetti said the casino would use a Colma vote in favor of unlimited betting to challenge the state moratorium.
"We think the moratorium is flawed," Franchetti said. "But the citywide vote is the only way to get the issues resolved before the court."
State law requires cities to hold a referendum to change gambling laws, but the moratorium allows them only a one-time increase on wagering limits of 25 percent, according to Nathan Barankin, spokesman for the Division of Gambling Control. "Even with voter approval, Colma cannot go back to unlimited wagering under existing law," he said.
Franchetti holds that the moratorium illegally places Lucky Chances at a disadvantage to Artichoke Joe's, a San Bruno cardroom that can offer unlimited gambling because San Bruno law permitted it before the state moratorium went into effect. Artichoke Joe's attorney Alan Titus said the cardroom has seen a small increase in patronage since Colma's betting limits went into effect. Franchetti said Lucky Chances' business has dropped substantially.
Copyright ©2006 Peninsula Examiner. Published 01/09/2006.