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Council OKs house-banked card rooms

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ARLINGTON House-banked social card rooms are now legal in certain locations in Arlingtons highway commercial zone, thanks to a 5-2 decision by the City Council Dec. 17.
The Council approved a motion to permit house-banked social card rooms only in areas south of State Route 531/172nd Street and east of 51st Avenue NE, or south of 169th Place NE, north of 164th Street NE and west of Smokey Point Boulevard. These card rooms are also not to be located within 1,000 feet of any daycare facility, school, church, synagogue or temple.
Council member Graham Smith amended the previously proposed ordinance, which would have lowered the tax rate on card rooms from 20 percent to 12 percent, but increased that rate by 2 percent each year, until the tax would have returned to 20 percent after four years. The amended ordinance, which the Council also passed, will lower the tax rate on card rooms from 20 percent to 12 percent, keep the rate at 12 percent for three years, and then increase it by 1 percent each year, until the tax reaches a new maximum rate of 15 percent after three years.
Smith considers this revised tax rate more in line with the tax rates on house-banked social card rooms in other cities.
Twenty percent is an exorbitant tax rate for any business, Smith said. If were serious about allowing this type of gambling, we have to make it attainable for businesses who want to practice it.
Smith noted that the tax proceeds would be dedicated to promoting public safety, while citing reports by city staff members, including Arlington Police Chief John Gray, that the presence of such gambling would not detract from public safety.
All the accounts and research Ive seen indicate that these are clean, reputable businesses, Smith said. Theyre highly regulated by the city, state, gambling commission and liquor board. They dont present as many law enforcement issues as taverns. In public safety, weve got ever-increasing expenses in labor, equipment and training that we dont want to pass on to our citizens.
Council member Dick Butner was likewise vocal in his support of legalizing house-banked social card rooms, although he stipulated that Gray report any issues involving such gambling establishments to the Council for the next six months.
What we actually did was tighten up the ordinance, Butner said. In Tacoma, the problem was that they left themselves open for all these folks to come in, and then they hurried up to try and shut it down. They wanted to keep the establishments they had, but they didnt want any more. Here, weve specifically zoned it to two areas.
Chris Raezer and Scott Solla were the two Council members who voted against both the land use and tax rate revisions which now allow house-banked social card rooms. In spite of his disagreements with the other five members of the Council on this issue, Raezer emphasized his regard for them.
It was an easy decision for me, but there were good arguments on both sides, Raezer said. I dont think it projects the right image for Arlington, though, and I think the projected revenues are greatly overstated. In 2006, these gambling establishments generated $3 million for Snohomish County, but half of that came from Mountlake Terrace, which means that the other $1.5 million was divided up among seven other establishments.
While Raezer does not object to gambling in principle, he pointed out that the city planning commission and several citizens who spoke at the public hearings voiced their concerns.
Ninety-five percent of the time, were in agreement, but this time, we werent, Raezer said. Well still work together and I continue to respect all of them.
I dont want to attack anybody, but Im passionate about this issue, Solla said. Im disappointed that the vote went the way it did, and Im equally disappointed that I dont feel the Council fully listened to the community.
Solla joined Raezer in citing the planning commissions unanimous decision to disapprove of the proposed land use ordinance for house-banked social card rooms, as well as the feedback from public hearings, an opinion poll in The Arlington Times and a series of letters to the editor.
The citys citizens overwhelmingly did not support this move, Solla said. Its our job to represent the community. When we make decisions like this, we need to take the pulse of the public.
Solla also argued that economic initiatives already underway have made the perceived financial benefits of such gambling establishments moot.
Between the success of Olympic Avenue and the number of other projects in the works, our retail and tax base potential is strongly positive, Solla said. This decision was a premature, knee-jerk reaction. We need funding in the long term for police, fire and EMS, but is this our answer?
In spite of Sollas misgivings, he wants this move to turn out well.
As our mayor has said, quality of life is why so many of us have chosen to live here, work here, raise our families and invest our time and money here, Solla said. I hope the other Council members are right, but I cant help but think its the wrong way to go.

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