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Bicycle Club Fees Fatten Budget : How Does Bell Gardens Grow?

June 27, 1985|STEVEN R. CHURM | Staff Writer

BELL GARDENS — This city is on an economic roll, and the Bicycle Club has become its lucky charm.

The booming success of the popular card casino has helped produce a near-record city budget of $10.8 million for fiscal 1985-86. The budget adopted Monday by the City Council is about $1.9 million, or 21%, larger than the current budget, and the city's anticipated share of Bicycle Club revenues in the coming months is a key reason for the hefty increase.

Bell Gardens Finance Director David Bass estimates that the city could collect $2.8 million in fees in the coming fiscal year from the 120-table Bicycle Club, which has drawn large crowds since opening in November. Bass said revenues from poker tables could reach $1.5 million, while the lucrative Chinese tile game, pai gow, could generate about $1.3 million for the city.

'Shot in the Arm'

"This is the biggest shot in the arm we've ever had," said Mayor Roger McComas in assessing the impact of the Bicycle Club on the city's financial situation.

Unlike gambling casinos in Nevada or New Jersey where players bet against the house, clubs in California only act as a host by providing tables and dealers; players bet against each other. California clubs make their money by renting seats to players. Bell Gardens receives a percentage of the club's monthly gross revenues, which come from the seat rentals.

Although poker fees next year will go into the general fund for salaries, street maintenance and capital improvement projects, council members decided to funnel pai gow revenues into the city's Redevelopment Agency to be banked and eventually used as seed money for larger, long-term projects. Among the projects, Bass said, is construction of low- to moderate-income housing in the largely Latino city of 37,000.

City officials agreed not to use pai gow revenues for essential services because the legality of the game is being tested in the courts.

'A Smart Move'

"It's a smart move because the game could be shut down at any moment," said Mayor Pro Tem Marvin Graves. "If we start spending that money on day-to-day services and it suddenly stops coming, we could be in real trouble."

The complicated tile game is played in six of the seven casinos now operating in Los Angeles County. Pai gow, which was introduced last fall to attract new players to the casinos, makes up 40% to 45% of the Bicycle Club's monthly gross revenues.

Earlier this year, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a temporary injunction preventing the district attorney's office or Sheriff's Department from shutting down the game. The ruling is being appealed.

Besides the poker revenues, Bass said the city will receive $2.3 million in federal grants. About $1 million of that aid will be used to replace and add street lights along the city's major thoroughfares--Eastern, Garfield and Florence avenues. The city will also spend another $1 million to repave streets and overhaul a portion of the city's aging water system.

Other major revenue sources include county sales taxes of about $1.1 million and gasoline taxes of $484,000.

$2.9 Million for Police

The biggest expenditure--about $2.9 million--will be for police protection. Since 1983, eight positions have been added to the Police Department, including two new detectives who were hired this year with the city's share of Bicycle Club revenues.

Although proponents had predicted that the city would earn between $1 million and $2 million a year from the casino, some city officials say the Bicycle Club's success has been a surprise. For example, officials had projected revenues from the club's first eight months of operation, ending this month, at about $600,000. But Bass said the total take will wind up closer to $1.3 million, and as long as pai gow is played, club revenues may make up a quarter of the city's total revenues next year.

The windfall has been used to give city employees and police raises ranging from 8% to 15%. Since the passage of property-tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978, annual raises had averaged about 2%.

"The city is in a sound position," Graves said. "But we've got to be careful we don't make the mistakes of others and spend all our card club money in one place."

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