Praising a downtown card room's owners for running a clean business, the Salinas City Council appeared poised late Tuesday to adopt rule changes that would allow off-track satellite horse race gambling and two more card tables.
But it also appears the Bankers Casino's plans to start offering horse race betting by next week will be delayed by at least a month.
Councilwoman Gloria De La Rosa, who called the owners led by Sal Jimenez the "best businessmen I know," and Councilman Steve McShane attempted to make a motion to adopt the rule changes. But Assistant City Attorney Chris Callihan said the changes were only being introduced late Tuesday and would be brought back for final adoption Feb. 5.
Callihan told the council the card room wouldn't be able to begin offering off-track horse race wagering until 30 days after the council adopts the rule changes. That means the Bankers Casino can't legally meet its planned Feb. 1 grand opening date for its new betting facility, The Triple Crown OTB and Sports Bar. The card room is offering off-track betting under the Monterey County Fairgrounds' satellite wagering facility license issued by the state.
Only Mayor Joe Gunter and Councilwoman Jyl Lutes appeared inclined to question the rule changes, as Councilman Tony Barrera joined his colleagues in praise for the card room operation. Councilman Jose Castañeda recused himself from the vote due to a potential conflict of interest as a result of accepting campaign contributions linked to the card room.
Gunter pointed out San Jose receives a considerably higher percentage of its local gambling business revenue, including funding for law enforcement training, implying he might recommend increasing fees — but he never did. In response, Callihan said San Jose benefits from a voter-approved tax that drives its portion of gambling revenue to about 13 percent, and that San Jose has a much larger casino.
Callihan said the city's card room ordinance already includes a provision for gaming law enforcement training. But Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin said city law enforcement lacks the capacity to monitor the operation at the gaming level because training is difficult to find and the city police's vice unit was eliminated because of budget cuts.
McMillin said police are monitoring the business for other law enforcement issues, but has encountered little near the site, and none he said was associated with the operation.
Barrera and De La Rosa said that local residents were concerned the card room would attract crime, but those worries have proved unfounded.
While Lutes lauded the owners for running a problem-free operation, she said the cost of training city law enforcement to monitor the gaming inside needs to be covered, and she requested that be addressed.
Salinas receives a little more than $5,000 per year in adjustable annual permit fees from the card room, as well as $1,000 per table and a variable business license fee based on the operation's gross revenue. Last year, the city reported receiving $19,248 in fees from the card room.
Under the new rules, the city would receive 0.33 percent of the card room's off-track horse wagering revenue, along with about $2,000 more per year in fees from the additional tables.
Salinas resident Brian Higgins, a member of the county fair's Heritage Foundation who spoke in favor of the satellite off-track betting facility, said the city would likely receive about a third of the $46,000 the city of Monterey was paid from the fairgrounds' operation last year.
Higgins said he was excited about the prospect of bringing off-track wagering to Salinas, saying city residents currently travel to Monterey to place their bets and urging the council to ensure that locals spend their disposable income in the city.
A city finance subcommittee earlier considered increasing the per-table fee or levying a tax, which would require voter approval, but didn't offer a recommendation.
Jimenez said his business already pays higher fees than any other card rooms in the region, while using little of the city's resources. He said it was unfair to compare the local card room to a multi-million dollar operation in San Jose, and said his business is already "heavily regulated" by the state through video monitoring, audits and the like.
The rule changes include a requirement that off-track horse race wagering would be limited to card rooms and boosts the number of permitted card tables from 9 to 11. City staff recommended rejecting other rules changes requested by the card room operators, such as no longer requiring employees to wear identification badges, easing employee training requirements on "problem gambling," and eliminating the prohibition against accepting loans or IOUs from customers.
The council approved hiring a consultant to help develop a "downtown vibrancy plan" with a new stakeholder group, authorized the use of Capital One economic development funds for an entrepreneur training program, heard an update on the Alisal Marketplace project, and approved a 25-year, $1 million naming rights deal for Rabobank Stadium, which is under construction.
Jim Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or 753-6753.