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Disneyland, Civic Leaders Oppose Card Club : Gambling: Magic Kingdom president, others say concept is at odds with Anaheim's reputation as a family entertainment center, and could foster crime. Mayor says he's willing to listen to proposal.

April 30, 1993|TERRY SPENCER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ANAHEIM — Disneyland as well as several community leaders said Thursday that they would probably oppose a proposal to build a card club in Anaheim, saying the city's reputation has been built on family entertainment and that introducing legalized gambling would hurt that image.

Disneyland President Jack Lindquist and the others reacted Thursday to a report in The Times detailing an approach to the city by representatives of the California Commerce Club. Most of those interviewed opposed the club, some citing the possibility of increased crime.

"The issue is something the City Council will have to decide, but from Disney's perspective gambling is something we would oppose in Anaheim," Lindquist said. "It's just not right for the area."

Details of the proposal have not been released, but the card club operators have told some council members that it would generate $10 million a year for the city.

It would likely be modeled after the California Commerce Club, in the City of Commerce. In legalized card clubs in California, players gamble against each other in poker and other card games. No one plays against the house, and the clubs receive a fee from the player or take a cut from the pot. Slot machines, dice and many other Las Vegas-style games would not be allowed because they are prohibited by the state Constitution.

Representatives of the Commerce Club have not returned several calls for comment this week. They are working with Southland Entertainment Properties Inc., a corporation formed last month to explore the feasibility of bringing card clubs with entertainment centers to Orange County.

"Should Southland make a proposal," said Southland spokesman Marty Wilson, "it will be a multiuse facility that will be consistent with the tourism and visitor-type of entertainment Anaheim offers."

Several local business leaders are behind the proposal, he said, adding that he couldn't release their names "until the time is right."

These people "would not do anything to spoil the city's image," Wilson said. "This project would bring jobs and tax revenue to a city that can use them."

Mayor Tom Daly said Thursday that he is not necessarily in favor of a card club in Anaheim, but said there is no harm in listening to the proposal, particularly when neighboring cities such as Stanton and Cypress will soon decide whether to allow clubs to be built. According to City Atty. Jack L. White, the council could approve a card club without putting it to a citywide vote.

Expressing skepticism at the immediate negative response, Daly asked if any of those surveyed Thursday said "what their opinion of a club (in Anaheim) would be knowing that one might be built one or two blocks from the city limit?"

Daly confirmed Wednesday that several council members had been approached by Southland about the proposal. He declined to say who had talked with the company's representatives.

Despite Daly's enthusiasm, several community leaders said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to persuade them Anaheim would benefit from a card club.

Councilman Bob D. Simpson said: "My first reaction would be negative." He said that when he was city manager in the late 1980s, he was approached by another group that wanted to build a card club in Anaheim but that proposal quietly died and was never made public.

"My perception of card clubs is the same as I perceive the general population's to be, which is that there is an element that comes along with card clubs and it is a negative element," Simpson said. "Our economy is built on the tradition of family entertainment and I think that is something that needs protecting."

Councilman Irv Pickler has said he wants to see the proposal before making a decision. Councilmen Fred Hunter and Frank Feldhaus did not return calls for comment Thursday.

However, Simpson's generally negative reaction was echoed in a sampling of business and other leaders in the city.

"It would be awfully hard to convince me that a card club would be an asset to the city," said Allan Hughes, executive director of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, noting his group has not taken a formal position and that he was speaking for himself. "Anaheim is known throughout California, the nation and internationally as a family destination and I would not want to see that diffused by the addition of an undesirable element."

Keith Olesen, a leader of several community groups and a former council candidate, said he knows little about card clubs "but my gut feeling is that it would be completely contrary to the type of person the rest of our entertainment appeals to with Disneyland and the sports teams."

The Rev. Robert Shepard, pastor of Anaheim First Methodist Church, said his denomination is "very strongly opposed" to gambling and would likely fight a card club proposal.

"Organized gambling opens the door to other elements that would not be welcome here," Shepard said. "I'm not saying this proposal is linked to organized crime, but those kinds of forces . . . could get a foot in the door."

Of 10 community leaders interviewed Thursday, only Curtis Stricker, president of Anaheim HOME--a neighborhood group that is opposing the expansion of Disneyland because members say it will bring traffic and noise to their community--said he might support a card club proposal.

"The first thing that comes to my mind is that if the City Council can attach fees to it, they'll probably go for it," Stricker said. "I don't have anything against anyone playing cards though. It doesn't bother me."

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