A coalition of Southland city managers seeking an overhaul of the state's century-old gambling law has persuaded a state lawmaker to take up their cause, officials announced this week.
State Sen. Robert A. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach) said he has introduced a bill that was drafted over the past four months by the city managers of Bell, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, Commerce and Gardena--where the Southland's seven card clubs are located.
The bill, city officials say, could settle a dispute over three high-stakes Asian betting games. For the past four years, since pai-gow , Asian poker and super pan 9 were introduced in the card clubs, the games have generated up to 50% of the clubs' yearly revenues.
But they also have brought repeated disputes between card club owners and law enforcement officials, who contend that the games violate the 1891 gambling law. Sheriff's deputies closed down the games for several days early this year. The controversy also has generated lawsuits.
Beverly, in a telephone interview Wednesday from his Sacramento office, said he was willing to sponsor the city managers' bill because of the continued debates over the wording of the law, which sheriff's, city and card club officials call archaic.
But, he conceded, it is not his most pressing issue since none of the cities he represents allow gambling.
Not Priority Item
"It's not a priority item," Beverly said. "(But), there's been a constant struggle over what games can be played (in card clubs)."
Beverly said his office, which is juggling more than 30 bills, has made no effort to lobby for the gambling-law revision. Beverly was contacted about the issue last month by Joseph A. Gonsalves, a lobbyist for the cities of Commerce, Bell Gardens and Cudahy.
Nevertheless, said Bell Gardens City Manager Claude Booker, coalition members are confident that Beverly, a 20-year veteran of state government and former city official, could be influential in transforming the bill into law.
"He's a friend of city government," Booker said, who with Commerce City Manager Louis Shepard has been lobbying for passage of the bill. Shepard went to Sacramento last week to seek the support of the League of California Cities, which has yet to respond, Booker said.
The bill is under review by the Senate Governmental Organizational Committee and will be ready for hearings by May 9, said Joshua Pane, a spokesman for Beverly.
If passed, it would replace the existing gambling law, which consists of one paragraph with a detailed description of seven games that are allowed in the state. It also would define disputed terms, such as banking, percentage and house.
The most significant aspect of the 11-page, compromise bill, supporters say, is that it would outlaw pai-gow , played with tiles instead of playing cards. The game, played at all seven of the casinos, has been the greatest source of controversy between law enforcement officials and card club operators.
The bill, however, would allow super pan 9 and Asian poker, which are derivatives of pai-gow, but are played with cards instead of tiles.
The other games listed in the proposed bill are: draw poker, panguingue (similar to super pan 9), seven-card stud poker and hold-em poker.
The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the California Police Officers Assn. have opposed pai-gow because it is played with a rotating dealer. The dealer, who also serves as a banker by controlling the betting, has an unfair advantage over other players, sheriff's spokesmen contend.
But card club owners and city officials support the game, saying that since every player has a chance to become the "rotating dealer," or banker, the advantage is neutralized. The current law outlaws banking games but does not define what they are.
Administrators of the five cities began drafting proposed changes in the gambling law after sheriff's deputies raided six of the card clubs during the New Year's weekend.
The Sheriff's Department closed down tables where the Asian games were being played until casino and Bell Gardens attorneys persuaded Superior Court Judge Kurt Lewin to issue a temporary restraining order barring deputies from further action.
The games are being played under an extension of that order until a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department can be heard later this year.
Los Angeles County Undersheriff Robert A. Edmonds, a local representative of the California Police Officers Assn., said that there are "many good sides to the bill."
See Need for Changes
He said that many law enforcement officials recognize that changes must be made in the law soon. "We are constantly in battles over the law," he said.
However, a new battle may be developing over a provision that allows jackpots, in which a player can win up to $70,000 by holding a certain hand at the time the "jackpot" is called.
Edmonds said he objects to jackpots because they are similar to lotteries in that players must "buy into" the jackpot in order to be eligible. He also argued that under the provision, profit-skimming of jackpots would be hard to control.
"Jackpot money can be easily diverted," Edmonds said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "That's our only significant concern about the bill at this time."
But Bicycle Club general partner George Hardie argued that jackpots are a legitimate way to bring in revenue. He criticized Edmonds for raising the issue after the bill had been drafted.
"This is a new argument," Hardie said. "For years they have had no objection to jackpot. Now they say it's improper. That's a far-fetched conclusion."