As it hunts for the money to hire more cops, Fresno County’s second largest city may very well find the answer in an unlikely place: a card room.
Thanks to a twist of fate in Sacramento, pollsters are currently surveying voters about a possible expansion of Clovis’ 500 Club Casino.
The backstory: Courtesy of immense pressure from the state’s tribal gaming interests, California has had a moratorium on opening non-Indian gaming facilities (particularly regulated card rooms) via the Gambling Control Act of 1997. The law prohibited card rooms from increasing the number of tables they can offer as well as blocking any new card rooms from opening across the Golden State.
- While the California Legislature has consistently renewed the moratorium ahead of its expiration, last year’s legislative session ended without a renewal, opening the door for card rooms to expand before another moratorium is enacted.
The big picture: A new poll circulating the City of Clovis probes voters over their interest in seeing the city’s lone card room – 500 Club Casino – expand by more than double, from 20 to 50 tables.
- It also floats a proposal for a ballot initiative to allow the table expansion and change the tax rate from 10 percent to seven percent of gross receipts, resulting in a projected $2-3 million boost in tax revenue for Clovis. The 500 Club currently pays more than $1 million in taxes to the city annually.
- The poll and its underlying sales pitch of higher tax revenues come after the City of Clovis explored a bevy of options for raising revenues to pay for increased public safety personnel.
- Ultimately, city officials placed a modest transient occupancy tax (otherwise known as a hotel tax) increase on the 2022 ballot, which was ultimately approved. The tax increase, however, paled in comparison to the city’s financial needs.
State of play: Clovis voters would need to approve a ballot measure approving the expansion of the casino to see any of the proposed changes.
- Once voter approval is secured, the Clovis City Council could approve an ordinance, and if the California Bureau of Gambling Control finds the ordinance to comply with state law, the 500 Club would be permitted to expand.
- With its current location at Willow Ave. and Shaw Ave. not likely able to house an additional 30 tables, the poll also discusses that the card room would need to move to accommodate the expansion.
What we’re watching: The immediate obstacle to the 500 Club’s expansion would be the state legislature moving to renew the moratorium. In late January, Asm. James Ramos (D–San Bernardino) introduced Assembly Bill 341, which would reinstate the moratorium until 2043. Card rooms that have 20 or fewer tables would be permitted to add two tables annually up to a maximum of 10 additional tables.
- As evidenced by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the last election cycle on two sports betting initiatives in California, the rivalry between card rooms and Tribal casinos is fierce and would likely play a major role in any local ballot initiative regarding the 500 Club.