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Voters Reject Card Casino 2 to 1 After Bitter Campaign : Gambling: Despite a pricey push from investors, the $40-million Cougar Club project loses in every precinct.

August 12, 1993|EMILY ADAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bellflower became the latest in a string of towns to reject a proposed card club this week, even after casino investors mounted a lavish campaign to convince voters they would bring revenues to the cash-starved town.

Like residents in Pico Rivera, West Hollywood, Stanton and Cypress, who voted in June, citizens in Bellflower defeated the gambling proposal after a bitter campaign.

The race wasn't even close: Casino backers lost in every precinct.

"I expected it (would lose), but not like this," said Councilwoman Ruth Gilson, who led the opposition. "I feel sorry for the investors, but they should have known the people here just don't want 24-hour gambling."

Partners in the Cougar Club, the group proposing a 10-acre, $40-million casino, spent more than $430,000 on their campaign, only to see it rejected 2 to 1. The final count for Proposition A, the only item on Tuesday's ballot, was 3,340 for and 6,677 opposed.

Jubilant gambling opponents credited voters with taking the moral high ground Tuesday. The danger of card clubs was a major issue throughout the campaign. Flyers left on voter doorsteps warned that casinos attracted crime.

Much of the anti-gambling literature that arrived like a blizzard in this city was linked to the nearby Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens and its general manager, George Hardie.

"Murder, suicide, drugs, corruption, gangs, addiction," trumpeted one flyer, paid for by Hardie and his casino. "Do you really want this gambling scheme in our city?"

According to county campaign disclosure statements, the Bicycle Club and Hardie donated about $72,000 to anti-casino campaigns in Bellflower and other cities. Three other opposition groups also distributed signs and flyers, with two of the three groups listing the same Los Angeles treasurer that the Bicycle Club used.

All told, out-of-town opposition groups spent about $89,360 in Bellflower, according to campaign disclosure statements. Gilson's group, No on A: The People Speak, spent less than $5,000, she said.

Much of the Cougar Club's $430,000 was spent on a drive to sign up absentee voters.

In other cities, such as Pico Rivera, absentee voters overwhelmingly favored casinos, and local proponents were hoping for the same results.

Yes on A campaign manager George Young said his group delivered more than 5,000 absentee ballot applications to the city clerk, who reported that more absentee ballots were cast than in any other election in city history.

So many voters were signed up as absentees, in fact, that there was some confusion at the polls. Precinct workers in at least two polling places reported that more than 40 people appeared to vote Tuesday, only to be told they had requested absentee ballots. Provisional ballots were issued in those cases, and set aside to be checked to ensure no double voting occurred.

The Cougar Club's high hopes for the absentee votes were dashed, however, when ballots were counted. They lost 1,720 to 1,911.

Mayor Pro Tem Ken Cleveland, the most vocal council proponent of the Cougar Club, said he was surprised Tuesday that the proposition failed.

"I know the lies and half-truths of the other side hurt us a lot," Cleveland said. "But other than that, I really don't know why people turned it down. I thought this was something they would want."

Even if the Cougar Club had been approved by voters, the casino still would have faced a tough legal battle.

In a lawsuit filed Monday seeking to invalidate the election, it was alleged that three council members had financial ties to Cougar Club partners and voted improperly when they put the issue on the ballot.

According to the lawsuit, Mayor Bob Stone, Cleveland and Councilman Bill Pendleton should not have participated in the council's 3-2 vote last May because all three had financial ties to Cougar Club partners.

The three denied any conflict of interest. But a spokeswoman for the Fair Political Practices Commission said she advised Cleveland last May to abstain from voting because he had recently been business partners with Cougar Club partner Virginia Boggs.

The suit seeks to overturn the council's vote. George Waters, attorney for Dixie Lee Iseminger, who filed the suit, said he planned to wait until well after the election before deciding whether to proceed.

According to the political commission, Los Angeles County prosecutors also are investigating the conflict-of-interest allegations.

EDITION-TIME ELECTION RETURNS

BELLFLOWER

Proposition A

Should a 24-hour card club be allowed to operate in the city?

19 of 19 Precincts Reporting

MEASURE VOTE % Yes 3,340 34% No 6,677 66%

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