Artichoke Joe's Casino and the Oaks Card Club, which were shut down by police on allegations of loan-sharking and drug dealing, won approval Thursday to reopen one minute after midnight Friday.
The club owners got the greenlight from the California Gambling Control Commission, whose three members voted unanimously to allow the clubs to resume operations temporarily as long as they agree to certain conditions, such as retraining employees and not reopening their Asian gaming tables, commission spokeswoman Pamela Mares said.
Both cardrooms had been closed since state and federal agents raided them March 2. Police spent at least two years investigating Artichoke Joe's, which is in San Bruno, and the Emeryville-based Oaks Card Room on allegations Asian gangs were selling drugs and loan-sharking in the casinos. Police said the loan sharks advanced cash to broke players at exorbitant rates and threatened violence if payment was withheld.
Oaks' attorney could not be reached for comment. But the phone message at the Oaks says the club will reopen at 10 a.m. Friday. Artichoke Joe's will open its doors at 9:30 a.m., with gaming starting at 10:30 a.m.
Alan Titus, an attorney for the owners of Artichoke Joe's, said by phone late Thursday that they were not aware a crime had occurred, and if they had been, they would have taken action.
"They would have expelled these people and turned them in to the authorities," Titus said. The gambling commission spokeswoman said Oaks owner John Tibbetts and Joe's owner Dennis Sammut, in their comments at the commission's meeting in Sacramento, condemned the crime that had gone on at their establishments.
Police have arrested 15 people in connection with the scams, and all face multiple federal charges. One of those charged was Hoa The Nguyen, the director of the Asian gaming section at the Oaks. Three Artichoke Joe's employees were charged in connection with the loan-sharking. They are John Chew, Bao Tran and Kwai Wong.
The two clubs are not open for good, however. They must deliver to the commission by April 30 their plan to clean up their operations. So far, both have agreed to retrain staff, suspend workers implicated in the crimes and increase surveillance.
It is not clear if the clubs will be allowed to remain open permanently. Also, Pai Gow, which is a game played with tiles similar to dominoes, will not be played when they are allowed to resume business Friday morning.
Both clubs have been around several decades, and owners tried quickly to buttress their reputations after the raids and closures. Joe's, which opened in 1916 and has grown to become a 38-table, 24-hour operation, filed a suit in San Francisco Superior Court claiming its owners had not been charged with "criminal activity during the past quarter century or longer." The suit seeks a temporary stay of the order shutting down the club, but it's not clear if the hearing on that motion, scheduled for Friday morning, will still be held.
Mares said commission members, while questioning the clubs' owners, were curious how the crime could have been happening without management noticing or reporting it.
Titus said Sammut doesn't work on the floor of the casino, so did not see any signs of wrongdoing. He said Sammut relies on managers to be the eyes and ears, and some of those people will likely lose their jobs.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335.
Artichoke Joe's and the Oaks Card Club shut down by police