News

Counsil squashes card room proposal

By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

City Council members have decided Enumclaw will continue its prohibition against one form of organized gambling.

After hearing testimony on both sides of the issue, council members last week rejected a proposal by longtime city businessman Rich Jensen to operate a card room along state Route 410.

Actually, council members had to take no action at all; the city would have required to take formal action only if the decision had been to remove the prohibition already in place.

In the late 1990s, the state relaxed its rules on certain types of gambling, and so-called mini-casinos began popping up. To prevent that type of business from coming to Enumclaw, the council in 1999 adopted an ordinance outlawing card rooms.

In October, Jensen went to the city with his proposal, which could have been allowed under terms of the Washington State Gambling Commission's "enhanced card room program." Jensen was hoping to establish a card room (the state would allow up to 15 tables), along with a full-service restaurant, lounge and separate area for small banquets or business meetings. He wanted to house the operation in the former home of the U.S. Forest Service, a building Jensen now owns.

Before taking public testimony, City Council members heard from Enumclaw Police Chief Bruce Weigel. The chief reported such operations generally bring no more problems than any establishment serving alcohol. In other cities, he said, card rooms maintain a "cooperative relationship" with the local police, primarily because they employ their own security force.

Mayor John Wise first asked to hear from those supporting the card room proposal. That request brought Jensen to the microphone, along with Mike McCarthy, a consultant for the gaming industry, and City Councilman Glen Jensen, who happens to be Jensen's son.

The younger Jensen had earlier excused himself from the proceedings, due to the family ties to the applicant. He attempted to offer comments solely as a private citizen, but was headed off by City Attorney Mike Reynolds, who said it would be "cumbersome" to have a councilman addressing fellow members of the council. With that, Jensen handed his notes to his father, who read the comments into the record. The younger Jensen said a card room could bring needed revenues to the city, and reminded everyone Enumclaw is known as a home to horse breeders, thus linking the city to horse racing and another element of the gambling industry.

Rich Jensen pointed out he has been in business in Enumclaw for more than 40 years and wouldn't attempt something he felt would harm the city. A card room, he said, would be "a very benign business." McCarthy had taken the same stance, suggesting a card room would have "no more impact that a popular restaurant."

McCarthy also pointed out "gambling is not new to Enumclaw," reminding council members of everything from the state-run lottery to raffles operated by non-profit groups.

The mayor's call for card room opponents brought comments from seven citizens. Most spoke of Enumclaw's small-town feel, voicing concerns a highly visible gambling establishment would lead to trouble.

"We have a beautiful little city here," said Darrell Dickson, while arguing that any financial benefit from a card room could be offset by declining property values in the area. Another suggested that a card room would be followed by pawn shops and adult-themed businesses, and another questioned whether a card room could eventually result in organized crime gaining a local foothold.

When it came time for the council to make a decision, Jennifer Krebs started by noting, "overall, it appears to me the public is quite opposed" to allowing a card room. Kevin Mahelona added his opinion there was no reason for the city to alter its current policy.

Councilmen Jim Hogan and Jeff Beckwith appeared less convinced, but concurred. "I think it would have minimal impact," Hogan said, adding that some of the fears voiced by the public were "preposterous." Beckwith noted a bit of hypocracy in the situation, pointing out "you can go to Safeway and gamble." Instead, he worried that the state, not the city, would have control over a card room; further, the city will soon be studying its 410 corridor and a card room might not fit future plans, he said.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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