POMONA — The City Council, despite appeals from residents opposed to gambling, has placed on the June 5 ballot a measure asking voters to decide whether to open the city to card clubs.
Councilman Mark A. T. Nymeyer proposed the ballot measure, approved by a 3-2 vote Monday, after being approached by developers interested in building a card club and major hotel. Nymeyer, acting pastor of the Central Baptist Church, said he does not endorse gambling but added it would be "irresponsible" to brush aside a proposal that could enhance the city's revenue.
Douglas B. Dunlap, deputy director of the city's redevelopment agency, told the council that card clubs are producing $10 million a year for Bell Gardens and $8 million a year for the City of Commerce. But, he said, a card club failed in the city of Bell and a club in Huntington Park is yielding only $263,000 a year for the city.
Before the council's vote, a dozen residents spoke on the proposal, most arguing that gambling breeds crime and corruption.
Manuel Vigil, 24, said: "The crime rate and level of prostitution is already high in Pomona. Having a casino will increase these levels and will affect you, your family, your children, everybody in this community."
William Jeffries, pastor of the First Church of God, said people in Pomona "have a right to live in a town without it becoming a Las Vegas."
Waunidi Changamire, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said city officials should take a lesson from the California lottery.
"Have we not learned anything from Lotto?" Changamire asked. "You see people in the stores trying to buy Lotto tickets with the last dollar they have and their babies are home with no milk. What do we have to do to show the destruction that gambling can bring about?"
The only public show of support for the proposal came from businessman Robert Dahms, who said that "if the negatives could be dealt with," a card club and hotel could raise the quality of Pomona night life and benefit the city economically.
Nymeyer, who said he has been accused of trying to introduce gambling to Pomona, pointed out that gambling already exists. He said many stores sell lottery tickets, 13 organizations conduct bingo games, and the Los Angeles County Fair and Exhibition Complex offers betting on horses during the Los Angeles County Fair and the Del Mar race meet.
Council members Nell Soto and C. L. (Clay) Bryant voted with Nymeyer to submit the issue to voters.
Bryant said he does not advocate gambling but is willing to let voters decide the issue. If card clubs are authorized, he said, the council will impose stringent controls.
Soto said: "I am not saying gambling is good, nor do I tell people how to live their lives." Since people are going to gamble anyway, she said, the city should take advantage of the opportunity to increase its revenue.
She said the council voted last year to lower the city's "infamous and hated utility tax," which requires residents and business owners to pay a hefty surtax on their utility bills. She said the city has no way to replace revenue lost by reducing the tax, but the card club proposal could help.
Councilman Tomas Ursua voted against the proposal, saying he feared that card clubs would aggravate the city's social problems.
Mayor Donna Smith also voted against the card club measure, saying the proposal "makes me very uncomfortable." If voters do approve it, she said, she hopes the city would confine gambling to an isolated location, such as the county fairgrounds. The Los Angeles County Fair Assn. has been trying to interest developers in constructing a hotel on the site, but Ralph M. Hinds, president and chief executive officer, said no one has proposed a card club with a hotel to the association. He added that he doubts the fair board would be interested in such a project. "I don't think we want a hotel that bad," he said.
The measure that will appear on the June 5 ballot is not tied to a specific card club proposal. It asks only whether the City Charter should be amended to legalize card clubs for draw poker, low-ball poker and other games permitted by state law. The proposal also would authorize the council to regulate and tax card clubs.
Last week, Nymeyer said developers, whom he declined to identify, had come to him with a card club/hotel proposal, and had offered to pay the city's cost of placing the measure on the ballot, estimated at $40,000 to $50,000.
But after meeting in closed session with the council Monday, City Atty. Arnold M. Glasman emphasized that the council does not have a specific card club proposal before it and will not consider projects until after the election.
Because the election measure is not tied to a specific development, the election cost will be borne by the city, Nymeyer said after the meeting with Glasman. If the measure is approved, Nymeyer said, he will recommend that the city require anyone receiving a card club license to pay the election cost retroactively.