Rebuffing the California Bell Club's bid to up the ante in the lucrative gambling wars among casinos in Southeast area cities, the Bell City Council on Monday refused to permit two new card games to be played there.
The council's action came after Bell-Cudahy Police Chief Frank Fording said that both games--seven-card poker and international poker 1-ace--are, in his opinion, illegal under state law.
Fording holds to that view even though one of the games is currently being played in Huntington Park, where that city's gaming club got a preliminary injunction barring application of state law to seven-card poker.
The stand taken by the Bell council left open the possibility that the Bell Club might also seek an injunction allowing it to play seven-card poker. Games now played at the Bell casino are lo-ball and draw poker, pai gow, pai gow poker, pan, pan-9, mah-jongg and super pan-9.
Keeping Club Competitive
In the past, Bell has approved new games such as mah-jongg and pai gow to allow the club to remain competitive with surrounding casinos in the Southeast Los Angeles County area. The proposing of new games has become a familiar cry among card club operators who are scrambling to keep and attract customers. Also this week, the Commerce Council agreed to let the California Commerce Club offer several additional games to its customers.
Fording, who must research and give his view on the legality of any new games before they come before the Bell council, said the two games apparently violate certain provisions of the state's gaming law.
"My feeling is that both games are prohibited by Section 330 of the Penal Code," he said, citing the law that governs gaming in California.
Version of Twenty-One
In his report, however, he recommended the council vote not to permit international poker 1-ace because it is a four-card version of twenty-one, an illegal game.
He said that because of the injunction in Huntington Park it "is doubtful if (seven-card poker) could be declared illegal at this time," adding that if it is permitted, "it only be authorized until a verdict is rendered" on its legality. Fording said that the only difference between seven-card poker and "the standard stud poker game is that in this game, all cards are dealt face down." Stud poker is also banned under state law.
Leslie Garber, lawyer for the club, said the club will try to come to an agreement with the city to allow the casino to play seven-card poker. He said it is too early to tell if the club would seek an injunction if not allowed to play the game.
Mayor George Cole said the council voted 4-1 against permitting the games because "our police chief felt both games were in violation of the state gaming ordinance."
The Huntington Park Casino, which offers nine types of games, sought the injunction against the City and County of Los Angeles last August to allow its customers to play seven-card poker until the legality of the game is settled at a trial set for July in Norwalk Superior Court. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department last July had threatened to shut the game down, saying it was illegal.
State gaming law specifies 12 games, including stud poker and twenty-one, as being illegal. Banking and percentage games are also prohibited, but it is up to local authorities to interpret what constitutes a banking or percentage game, said Mike Broderick, an assistant manager with the state Justice Department's gaming registration program.
Fording said a banking game has all players betting against one player. A percentage game is where the casino takes a percentage of wagers, rather than charging a fixed rate per hand played or by the length of time played.
Fording said in an interview Tuesday that he did not take as strong a stand against seven-card poker because "it's extremely difficult to obtain a criminal conviction when you have a Superior Court Judge issue an injunction."
At the council meeting, Councilman Ray Johnson rejected the idea of treating the two games differently. "I see no compelling economic reason" to allow either game, he said. "If the California Bell Club wants to go to court and get an injunction (themselves), we'll leave that up to them."
But Mayor Pro Tem Jay Price said the club would have suffered financially if the city had not permitted pai gow to be played there when that game was introduced. The legality of the game, played with tiles instead of cards, is being tested in courts.
Approved New Games
In the past, Bell has approved new games such as mah-jongg and pai gow to allow the club to remain competitive with surrounding casinos.
The city has also granted tax breaks and various concessions to the ailing club, which is trying to bounce back from what city officials called poor management and a yearlong federal investigation that resulted in the convictions of two former city officials and several club partners in a racketeering scheme.