CUDAHY — After years of delays, the developer of a poker parlor planned for this mile-square city has bought land and a building to house the club.
Charles King, president of Tanlo Inc., said the firm has purchased a two-acre site in an industrial section of south Cudahy for $637,500.
But the club King plans to build will not be the grandiose poker palace he once envisioned.
When King proposed the Silver Saddle Casino four years ago, he boasted that it would be the world's largest card parlor. The club, as he saw it then, would cost more than $15 million and feature a massive, column-free pit area for more than 100 poker tables.
His firm failed, however, to raise money for the large club and had to scale back its plans, King said in an interview.
The 7,000-square-foot building he bought is about a tenth the size of the structure originally planned. The oblong, cinder-block building at Patata Street and Wilcox Avenue housed an automobile smog control station until last year.
"If I were on an ego trip, it would be a comedown," said King, who owns Tanlo with his wife, Anna. "But I'm not on an ego trip. I'm a businessman, and I want to do what makes good business sense."
King, a Santa Ana real estate agent, said Tanlo will spend about $2.5 million to enlarge the building to about 20,000 square feet so it can house 50 tables, a restaurant, cocktail lounge and administrative offices. He said he will open the club in September.
King declined to discuss the financing of the land acquisition. He said Tanlo has a "firm commitment" for a $2.5-million loan to expand the building but would not discuss any details.
Because the club's success could hinge in large part on the games it offers, King said he plans to go before the City Council on Monday to ask that it allow the club to offer pai gow, a complex betting game played with domino-like tiles. Pai gow is popular among the Asian community.
"In order to be competitive with the surrounding clubs, it will be essential that we be allowed to play the same games," King said.
The city's gambling ordinance now allows only traditional card games. Councilman John Robertson and other poker club opponents say the ordinance, approved by city voters in December, 1982, should not be altered.
"It's one thing to offer poker," Robertson said. It's a very different thing to start including games that were not approved by the people,"
In addition, the legality of pai gow is still uncertain. Although a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in January that the game is essentially legal, the district attorney's office has disagreed, creating a legal quandary.
King's efforts to build a card club have been marked by controversy.
The City Council held more than half a dozen hearings over a four-month period in early 1984 while debating whether to revoke Tanlo's business license for failing to meet a construction deadline. In the end, a divided council voted 3 to 2 to give Tanlo until September, 1985, to have the card club operating.
In December, 1983, King said he had a funding commitment for the card club from Seacoast Investment Group, a Virginia-based financial consortium. But that commitment came into question when Seacoast told city officials that only preliminary contracts had been made with King, and no final agreement had been reached. Seacoast executives also said they were unaware the money was to be used for construction of a casino.
Tanlo's financial footing again became an issue last November, when the project's architect obtained a court order to seize $27,000 still owed by King. As part of the ruling, a lien was placed on $50,000 King deposited with the city for the card club project.
King, however, said that the architect went to court merely to document that the money was owed. A judge ordered the lien, King said, after the architect's lawyer mistakenly sought the ruling because of "a communication gap."
"The critics have tried to make me out as a bad element," King said. "If that had been the case, we would have had a card club open a long time ago. It usually takes longer to do something right, but we weren't going to deviate from our high ethics."
Bell, Commerce Scandals
King said the card club project has been troubled in large part because of recent scandals involving poker clubs in the cities of Bell and Commerce.
In Bell, two former city officials and a front man who held their hidden interests in one of Southern California's largest poker clubs pleaded guilty in September, 1984, to participating in a scheme to deceive and defraud the city and state.
Fireworks magnate W. Patrick Moriarty and four former Commerce officials earlier this year pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with the licensing of a poker club there. In addition, a Las Vegas gambling figure with reported ties to organized crime was tried and found guilty of fraud and running an illegal gambling enterprise at the California Commerce Club.
In the meantime, competition has grown among card clubs. When King first began talking in 1981 about opening a 100-table club, about 75 tables were operating in the Southeast area. Today, there are more than 350, he said. Just across the Long Beach Freeway, the Bicycle Club recently opened in Bell Gardens with more than 100 tables.
"Size is not everything," King said. "It's like Las Vegas. You've got the MGM Grand, then you've got the smaller casinos across the street that pull in a crowd."
But King said he still hopes to build the $15-million club he dreams of.
"If the business is there and it makes sense to expand," he said, "that's the direction we'll go."