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New Clubs in the Cards? : Casino Developers Are Betting on Pomona and Other Area Sites

May 19, 1994|ANDREW LePAGE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's tough to find people who look like they're actually having fun at Los Angeles County's five card clubs. The sea of green-felt card tables in these casinos is dotted throughout with the stony faces of poker players assessing their hands.

Enter Tradewinds.

The group hopes to build the first card club in the San Gabriel Valley, proposing to bring more than a touch of Las Vegas to the Southern California gambling scene. Theirs is the most ambitious of five casino proposals during the past several months that seek to gain a toehold in the valley.

The Tradewinds plan calls for a complex on leased land on the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona with the look of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" and featuring live bands, stage productions, ethnic restaurants, and rooms for playing video games and shooting pool. In addition to poker and Asian card games, the center would offer off-track, satellite wagering on horse races.

The main building at Tradewinds would be fashioned after a make-believe shipwreck turned upside down; palms and waterfalls would aim for a tropical air.

"If you went to the Bicycle Club (in Bell Gardens) and didn't play cards, you'd be bored out of your skull," said Jon Langbert, who is forming a corporation with three Pomona architects to build and run the casino. "We're looking at the trend in this country away from just games and toward a whole product with multiple forms of entertainment, like the new Treasure Island resort in Las Vegas."

Langbert--now an employee of New Jersey-based Capital Gaming, which manages casinos on Indian reservations in several Western states--also sees the theme park aspect as his best chance for wooing customers in a business that's getting more competitive as proposals for card clubs blossom around Southern California in general and the valley in particular.

* Another group in Pomona is proposing a club on farmland along the Pomona (60) Freeway. The promoters say their casino, to be called Champs, would cater in part to Asian Americans with a first-class Chinese restaurant and variety of Asian card games.

The council paved the way Monday night for both developers to come forward with formal proposals. The council voted 5 to 2 to allow card clubs in areas zoned for light industry and at the fairgrounds. Also on a 5-2 vote, the council modified its existing gaming ordinance, first adopted in 1964, to allow dancing and alcohol sales.

* Casino promoters Michael Meczka and Frank Santin have vowed to take their casino proposal to Irwindale voters after a harsh rejection from that community's City Council. Just before voting to oppose the club last year, Councilwoman Jacquelyn Breceda had just one question for the developers: "What will it take to make you go away?"

The partnership proposes to build the 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot club on Arrow Highway near the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway. They say the club would create about 500 jobs and generate at least $3 million in annual gaming tax revenue.

* In South El Monte, one of Southern California's lowest-income communities, the City Council voted 3 to 2 last week to put a card club proposal to a vote in an Aug. 9 special election. A newly formed corporation called San Gabriel Valley Enterprise is behind the proposal, according to that group's attorney, Jerry Neuman.

Neuman said the developers want to build a 50,000- to 70,000-square-foot building with roughly 150 game tables on about 22 acres south of the Pomona (60) Freeway at Santa Anita Avenue, less than 200 yards from South El Monte High School. He said the landowners, a joint venture of WB-Core Co. and South El Monte Associates, have offered to compensate the city for the cost of the special election to decide the casino's fate.

More than 300 protesters marched May 12 at City Hall to oppose the council vote. Citing fears of crime, prostitution and drug use spawned by the card club, residents and Catholic priests demanded unsuccessfully that the council force card club proponents to collect signatures for a ballot initiative before the issue is put to the people.

* In Monterey Park, some believe a card club proposal by BCTC Development Corp. may resurface now that a new council is in place. BCTC officials did not return phone calls. But former Councilman Sam Kiang, was voted out of office last month, speculates that the company was funding opposition to him and two other losing candidates who oppose gambling in that town.

Kiang took the lead in opposing BCTC last year when the company made its tentative plans known. None of the three newly elected council members have opposed the prospect of gaming in town.

*

"They have everything to do with why I wasn't reelected," Kiang said of BCTC. "I'm the staunchest opponent of the card clubs."

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