Officials for three cities based in Los Angeles County implored the Board of Supervisors to reverse its order closing cardrooms.
The Board forced the seven Los Angeles cardrooms to close Monday in an effort to address rising coronavirus cases. The shutdown will last through at least Dec. 20.
It’s the third time this year that the cardrooms have been forced to close entirely. They had reopened in early October, offering gaming only outdoors.
City officials from Bell Gardens, Hawaiian Gardens and Commerce made clear the impact these closures have on city services.
“It’s important to note that our communities of color depend heavily on card club revenues to provide basic and essential public services such as public safety, youth and senior services,” said Eddie Hernandez, city manager for Hawaiian Gardens. “The partnerships that exist between our cities and these businesses are critical to our communities and our quality of life.”
Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano added:
“Shutting down the casino is like shutting down the City of Commerce.”
CA cities suffering from lost cardroom revenue
Hernandez explained that Hawaiian Gardens receives more than 70% of city revenue from Gardens Casino. With the cardroom closed between March and June, opening briefly before shutting down again until October, the city has lost 50% of its revenue and had to lay off more than 40% of city staff.
While gambling venues may provide an essential service, city officials asserted that the revenue they provide supports essential services.
“If these closures continue, we will have to cut essential services,” Hernandez said.
Altamirano added that Commerce has furloughed 200 employees.
Alejandra Cortez, mayor of Bell Gardens, noted that The Bicycle accounts for more than 50% of the city’s general fund, and projected losses in city revenue thus far amount to $9 million.
“We are so close to a vaccine,” Cortez said. “However, this may be the last nail for some of our businesses and some of the services in our city. … This is more than just gaming — it’s a vital resource to our community.”
Cardrooms already adhere to strict regulations
Most frustrating to cardrooms and the municipalities they support is that they are being shut down while having stricter safety protocols than many businesses allowed to remain open.
“Outdoor gaming is not permitted while other businesses with far less protections for their patrons have been allowed to remain open,” Hernandez said. “This was an arbitrary decision not made on science or any other measurable information, as card clubs have not been identified on a state, county or local agency to be a primary source of infections.”
Safety procedures put in place by cardrooms include:
- Temperature checks prior to admittance
- Sanitizing every time a player leaves a seat
- Plexiglass barriers separating players from each other and dealers
- Masks worn at all times, including by employees
- No food or drink at tables
“There’s no data behind the closing of our casinos,” Cortez said. “We weren’t informed prior to the new policy. All we ask is for our community to be part of the decision-making process, but also to come up with better ways of dealing with the pandemic.”
LA cardrooms hurt more than others in California
Cardrooms in other areas throughout California remain open for outdoor gaming, though the state recently mandated they close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Cities with a health department don’t have to follow Los Angeles County health orders. Pasadena, for example, allows restaurants to operate outdoor dining currently banned by the county.
Altamirano called on neighboring cities to form a coalition toward creating their own health department.
Collectively, according to Gardens General Counsel Keith Sharp, LA cardrooms employed 10,000 people prior to the pandemic and have reduced that workforce by 70% because of the spread of coronavirus.
“Closing us down will not impact the surge, but it will leave thousands of Angelenos out of work right at holiday time, further harm our businesses and put our cities in deeper financial peril.”