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City Split Over Card Club Plan : Gambling: Developers say it would generate at least $3 million a year in tax revenue. Opponents worry about crime.


IRWINDALE — A development partnership proposal to build the San Gabriel Valley's first card club already is dividing Irwindale's council and public.

"It's a very touchy subject, it splits families in Irwindale," said Mayor Pro Tem Frederick Barbosa.

Council members say they already are hearing from constituents on all sides of the issue: those who like it for the money it would generate, those who hate it for the crime they fear it would spawn and those who are concerned about it but willing to listen.

The would-be developers, two longtime card club and gambling industry specialists, say they would spend about $15 million to open the club, which they estimate would bring in at least $3 million a year in tax revenue, and possibly up to $9 million. They have only introduced the idea, and have submitted no formal plans because first they must win voter approval of the idea.

As envisioned by the developers, the card club would be 40,000 to 60,000 square feet and include tables for poker and Asian card games and Chinese and Mexican restaurants. And because the developers say they want their club and restaurants to appeal to families, they are considering an adjoining arcade and a hair and nail salon.

The developers say the club would draw 2,000 to 3,000 players a day and create 500 jobs, mostly full-time.

With the proposal, Irwindale becomes another in a growing list of cities that have been approached recently by card club promoters. Earlier this year, a card club proposal in Monterey Park never got off the ground in the face of strong opposition from city officials and residents.

In Irwindale, the Chamber of Commerce is taking a neutral stance on the card club idea, executive director Joe Di Shanni said.

Mayor Robert Diaz, Councilwoman Jacquelyn Breceda and Councilman Barbosa said last week they haven't taken a position on the issue.

Diaz, Barbosa and Breceda voted at the council's July 19 meeting to ask the card club developers to provide the council with more information at its Aug. 26 meeting.

"I'm not endorsing (the card club) at this point, but I'm open to considering anything that will financially benefit the city," said Breceda. "I'm also interested in the safety of the city."

Councilman Julian A. Miranda and his uncle, Councilman Patricio Miranda, voted against the motion to ask the developers for more information. The two failed to get a third vote on their own motion: to drop the card club idea immediately.

Julian Miranda said he doesn't want a card club in the city because he fears that it would tarnish the town's reputation by fostering immoral activity. Patricio Miranda was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

"The way I see it, this is a small, tight-knit community and a card club would bring along a lot of bad factors," Miranda said.

Technically, the casino promoters don't even need the council's blessing, but must get voter approval--although they would still have to come back to the council for permits.

Julian Miranda's father is Irwindale's police chief, Julian S. Miranda, who was on vacation last week, and could not be reached for comment. However, Irwindale police Commander Charles Crawford, who has worked with the chief for 23 years, said that, "Historically, the chief has not been in favor of the card parlors."

He said several clubs have attempted to win council approval during the last 20 years. None has been successful.

"Something like a card club would have a big impact on a small department like this," Crawford said. "I don't think I would want them here despite the revenue they may bring. There would be a lot of traffic and you always hear about the narcotics, prostitution, and organized crime--unfortunately sometimes it really happens."

If approved, Irwindale's card club would join just five others in Southern California: The Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, the Commerce Casino in the City of Commerce, the Normandie Club and the El Dorado Club in Gardena, and the Huntington Park Casino in Los Angeles.

That number could increase significantly if several other card club proposals succeed.

Votes on card clubs are scheduled later this year in Bellflower and Lynwood, and Oxnard and Anaheim are considering proposals. Inglewood and Compton approved clubs last year.

Four card clubs proposed in cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties were defeated at the polls last month.

The Irwindale council could call for the special election, or simply let promoters try to get the roughly 100 signatures necessary to force a ballot referendum.

State law adopted in 1984 requires the matter to be put to a vote of the people unless the city has an existing gaming ordinance approved prior to 1984, which Irwindale officials said they don't have.

The promoters say they plan to set up an information office in the city within a couple of weeks and begin to gather the signatures--not just 100, but as many as possible in order to measure the level of support for the venture.

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