GARDENA — Despite opposition from two council members, the city's three card clubs have won approval to serve liquor to patrons seated at casino tables.
By a 3-2 vote, the City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance that allows the clubs to serve alcoholic beverages to card players. Previously, the clubs could serve liquor only in restaurants adjacent to gambling areas.
The measure was sought by the Normandie Club. Club attorney Edmund Russ told council members that the ordinance was needed to keep the city's clubs competitive with others in nearby areas in Los Angeles County that already allow liquor to be served at their tables.
"We used to have more revenue coming from the card clubs than from any other source in this city," Russ said. "Do we want to keep losing clubs? Or are we going to allow the clubs to be competitive and keep revenues up?"
Russ, a former Gardena mayor, was referring to the closure in recent years of three card clubs in the city.
But Councilman Mas Fukai, a frequent critic of the clubs, expressed strong opposition to what he described as "three more 10,000-square-foot bars in this town."
"The biggest complaint that I have is crime" near the clubs, Fukai said. "And what we're doing here is contributing to that by serving liquor while they're playing cards. These people are going to be driving through our streets after they've been drinking.
"What are we actually weighing here--the survival of the card clubs versus the dangers to people in our community?"
Fukai was joined by Councilman Paul Tsukahara in opposition to the ordinance. Tsukahara said he was concerned that serving liquor at the tables might cause increased problems for police in dealing with intoxicated patrons.
However, Russ found support for the ordinance in the other council members--all of whom said they were confident that the conditions attached to the ordinance would provide adequate safeguards. Under the ordinance, drinks can be served only by card club employees to active card players seated at tables on the casino floor, and no complimentary or reduced-price drinks can be offered.
Councilwoman Gwen Duffy noted that a report prepared by Police Chief Richard Propster showed that since 1983, when the city decided to allow clubs to serve alcohol in their restaurants, the number of alcohol-related calls to police from casinos has not risen significantly.
Said Mayor Donald Dear: "I'm not sure this is the big watershed decision, because the decision has already been made in terms of having (liquor) in the restaurants. . . . As a council, we try to encourage business, and I see this as three clubs attempting to be competitive."
Effective in 30 Days
The ordinance becomes effective in 30 days. However, it will take longer--perhaps up to two months--before drinks will be served at the tables because the club owners must obtain conditional-use permits, city officials said.
Before Tuesday's meeting, Normandie Club officials contended that the club's revenue could increase by 25% if liquor were served at casino tables. However, city officials noted gross receipts from the city clubs have actually decreased each month since they have been allowed to sell alcohol in adjacent restaurants.
Gardena held a monopoly in card clubs in Los Angeles County from the 1930s until about six years ago and have historically provided the city with 25% of its revenue.
In recent years, however, the clubs have experienced stiff competition from bigger, flashier clubs in neighboring communities. In the past five years, the portion of the city's $25-million budget derived from club revenues has dropped to about 8% and is expected to decrease even more in coming years, according to city officials.