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Anaheim Latest City to Consider Gambling Club

April 29, 1993|MATT LAIT and ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ANAHEIM — Operators of a Los Angeles-area card club, seeking access to one of Orange County's biggest markets, have met in recent weeks with members of the Anaheim City Council to explore the idea of bringing a gambling and entertainment center to the city, officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Tom Daly said that several council members have been approached by representatives of the California Commerce Club about building a club, complete with a hotel and entertainment facilities, at an undetermined site.

Anaheim represents the biggest target in the recent push to introduce high-stakes gambling casinos into the county. Voters in Cypress and Stanton are already scheduled to go the polls in June on the emotionally charged question of whether card clubs should be allowed into their cities.

While Daly said he wants to hear more details before making a decision, he added that developments in Cypress and Stanton have prompted Anaheim council members to consider the idea seriously.

"If it's going to be on your doorstep, you might as well get the benefit from it," Daly said. Council members may receive a written proposal on the plan as early as June, Daly said.

The idea of legalized gambling in Orange County's second-most-populous city promises to heat up the debate over the pros and cons of card clubs. While backers point to the substantial revenue that clubs could bring to cash-starved cities, opponents say the gains are outweighed by potential increases in crime and corruption.

One factor that councilmen are apparently considering is the compatibility of gambling with the city's tourist-based economy, which is centered around Disneyland and the children and families that attraction brings to the area.

Disneyland President Jack Lindquist declined comment Wednesday on the prospect of legalized card clubs in the city, but Daly said the idea would have to gain acceptance from the community at large.

Beyond the public debate, the Anaheim proposal appears certain to spark competition within the club industry as Southland clubs push to win a piece of the Orange County market, said one executive who asked not to be identified. In other communities, such as Santa Clara, club operators have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns to sway public opinion.

"This is a high-stakes game," the source said.

Card club operators have told council members that a card club could add about $10 million annually to city coffers.

That estimate is in line with money generated by two of the major card clubs in Los Angeles County. In Bell Gardens, the Bicycle Club produced close to $11 million for the city in fiscal year 1991-92. The City of Commerce received $10.2 million that year from Commerce Casino revenues.

But critics around Orange County paint a picture of legalized gambling and its long-range effects that are at odds with the family image Anaheim has long sought to foster.

They maintain that card clubs inevitably attract organized crime and prostitution. In a letter last week, Los Alamitos Mayor Ronald Bates and Westminster Mayor Charles V. Smith urged Anaheim City Council members to oppose such clubs, saying that they will "negatively affect all of Orange County" by attracting gangs, sparking follow-home robberies and creating "other insidious effects."

Anaheim City Atty. Jack L. White said he does not believe a city referendum would be required to allow card clubs. The city now outlaws club gambling, but White said he believes the City Council could vote to legalize it without voter approval.

George Tumanjan, president of the California Commerce Club in the City of Commerce, did not return phone messages from a reporter seeking comment Wednesday. But a spokesman for a company working with the Commerce Club on the Anaheim proposal said planners are exploring "the feasibility" of the idea and may move ahead by next week.

"The attraction to Anaheim is that it would be an upscale market in Orange County, and it would be a multiuse facility. The card club would be one component," said Marty Wilson, a public relations consultant with Southland Entertainment Properties Inc.

Wilson said Southland Entertainment was formed last month in Anaheim to pursue the idea of bringing card clubs and entertainment centers to Orange County. State records show the company was incorporated on March 26.

Wilson said that Southland Entertainment is working with the Commerce Club because of its reputation as a "clean, well-run operation." But he would not comment on any financial connection between to the two companies or say who is providing financial backing for Southland Entertainment.

"We're just not in a position to name names. At the appropriate time, we will," Wilson said.

That will likely come within a week to 10 days, when Southland makes a formal announcement about its interest in bringing a card club to Orange County "and the benefits and jobs it will bring," he said.

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