Commission votes no on card rooms

ARLINGTON After a contentious public hearing at the Sept. 4 City Council meeting, the city of Arlington Planning Commission voted unanimously Sept. 6 to disapprove the proposed ordinance which would allow house-banked card rooms in the city.
At the Sept. 4 meeting, Arlington Assistant City Administrator Kristin Banfield explained the city staffs proposed ordinance, which would allow house-banked card rooms in certain locations within the citys highway commercial zone, isolated from existing schools and churches, and would lower the tax rate on card rooms from 20 percent to 12 percent. She elaborated that the proposed 12 percent tax rate was drawn from an average of other cities in Snohomish County that allow such card rooms.
City Council member Dick Butner described house-banked card rooms as a relatively low crime risk, while fellow Council member Scott Solla took issue with lowering the tax rate for such card rooms.
These tax revenues go into public safety, Solla said. If were going to do this, we need to get the most out of it that we can. If were going to backpedal, whats the point?
Council member Marilyn Oertle expressed an interest in a tax rate somewhere between the existing 20 percent and the proposed 12 percent.
Arlington resident Esther Van Der Berg was the first to speak in the public hearing portion of the meeting, and her remarks set the tone for a number of the comments that would follow.
Introducing gambling into our midst is not our only option, said Van Der Berg, whose concerns of drunken violence at such an establishment were echoed by other citizens. It will not add anything to the city. It will just bring us down.
Scott Bigger moved to Arlington two years ago with his wife and three children, and he worries that such card rooms might detract from the traits that his family wanted from their current hometown.
If we start down this road, by allowing these types of businesses in, it will be detrimental, Bigger said.
City Council candidate Virginia Hatch repeated her objections to house-banked card rooms at the Sept. 4 and 6 meetings, urging the city to contact communities which had allowed and then disallowed such card rooms.
Why did they get rid of it? Hatch asked. Maybe we can learn from their mistakes without having to make them ourselves.
Hatch went on to argue that not all crimes caused by gambling occur at gambling establishments, listing domestic violence and theft from employers as two potential consequences of gambling addiction.
Stillaguamish Tribal Chair Shawn Yanity also spoke at both the Sept. 4 and 6 meetings, to emphasize the levels of required regulation that separate tribal casinos from house-banked card rooms.
We operate under both state and federal oversight, said Yanity, citing the National Indian Gaming Commission. Were targeting people who are looking to be entertained for a few hours, not big-time gamblers.
Yanity likewise pointed to the tribes support for gambling addiction recovery programs and its contributions to community charities and services.
Gary Malcolm represents himself and two other businessmen who have spoken with the owners of the Chrome Cafe and the city of Arlington about adding a house-banked card room to the Chrome Cafe.
At the Sept. 4 meeting, Malcolm cited the maximum limits of 15 tables per house-banked card room, 10 players per table and $200 per betting hand as evidence of their regulation.
When Arlington resident Vickie Sollon asked Malcolm if such card rooms would bring prostitutes or topless dancers to the area, Malcolm asserted that on-site security would turn away prostitutes or anyone else engaged in illegal activity, while City Council member Graham Smith noted that the area is not zoned for topless dancing or other adult entertainment.
When City Council member Chris Raezer expressed reservations about subsidizing a private business by lowering the tax rate for house-banked card rooms, Malcolm said, If you dont want us to come here, keep it at 20 percent.
At the Sept. 6 meeting, further questions were raised about preserving a certain distance between house-banked card rooms and day cares or single-family homes.
Planning Commission Chair Bruce Angell asked repeatedly why the City Council would ask for house-banked card rooms to be isolated from existing schools and churches, without also asking that non-house-banked card rooms be equally isolated.
If theres no difference between house-banked and non-house banked card rooms, in terms of crime rates, why would you limit one, but not the other? Angell said. Im a little confused.
The Planning Commission as a whole voiced enough misgivings about the proposed land use ordinance, as it was written, that Planning Commission member Ken Klein made a motion to disapprove it.
While fellow commission member Virginia Collins had asked city staff to supply more data, Klein said, The details dont matter. We dont need the money that bad, with which Collins concurred.
I look at the cities that have allowed this and Im not sure thats what we want to become, Angell said. Im not ready to make a decision like this without understanding its ramifications.
Were talking about the gateway to Arlington, said fellow commission member Diane Shipley. What do we want it to look like?
The next public hearing on house-banked card rooms will take place at the Sept. 17 City Council meeting, 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers, at 110 E. Third St.

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