Business · Fresno

Club One Casino gets approval to open – with fewer jobs than planned. Here’s why.

Following a roller coaster of requirements, Club One Casino’s move from downtown Fresno to woebegone Granite Park is officially approved.

But there’s a slight hitch: owner Kyle Kirkland won’t be able to hire roughly 100 workers back for at least three more months.

After a lengthy debate, Fresno lawmakers voted 5-1 to approve his card room permit with 31 tables for card games rather than the 51 requested.

Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria was recused from the vote due to conflict of interest related to Granite Park. Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld was the lone dissenting vote, citing the reduction in tables.

The card room’s permit appeared to be on the verge of approval two weeks ago, when it came to a halt as Fresno City Councilman Tyler Maxwell called on Kirkland and Club One officials to hold a public forum to fully solicit public feedback.

Card room employees canvassed the neighborhood in the ensuing week ahead of an Aug. 12 forum.

With more, largely positive feedback, it again looked as though Kirkland and his employees would be able to get back to work.

Most will, but not nearly as many as Kirkland had anticipated.

Citing Kirkland’s testimony from their last meeting, Maxwell noted that Club One planned on operating 25 tables at its opening in its new location and expand to the total of 51 after further build-out of the former east-central Fresno night club location.

Maxwell proposed “as a show of good faith” to Kirkland, approval on his license with an allowance for 31 tables.

The remaining 20 would be held back to “show to this Council, and more importantly, your new neighbors… that you [Kirkland] are a good actor,” Maxwell said.

Kirkland, an operator for more than 20 years in his downtown Fresno location, received back-up on his position as a good actor from Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and a zealous defense from Fresno City Council member Garry Bredefeld.

“I find it insulting that the motion is to come back in 90 days for 20 more tables to see if Mr. Kirkland is a good actor — that was the quote I heard,” Bredefeld said to Maxwell, then turning to Kirkland.

“I guess we don’t know from your 10 to 20 years of business here whether or not you’re a good actor.”

The withholding of 20 additional card room tables delays – and could possibly eliminate – an estimated 100 additional positions at Club One Casino.

It also greatly reduces the possibility for the card room to attract major gaming events, a key element of its business model at its downtown location, until its full slate of tables are approved, Kirkland argued.

“On one hand, we want to celebrate,” Kirkland told McClatchy. “On the other hand, we want to get past this.”

Confusion over holding 20 tables hostage

Maxwell’s push to hold back 20 additional tables puzzled City Hall watchers, particularly after the lawmaker pressed his colleagues to approve a non-binding resolution to dedicate a portion of Club One’s tax revenue for use at city-owned Granite Park.

Fresno City Council members approved a resolution setting aside 12 percent, or an estimated $120,000 annually, for operation and maintenance costs for city-owned or city-operated facilities accessible free-of-charge to the public within 1,000 feet.

The most obvious beneficiary: Granite Park, owned by the city and operated by Soria’s fiancée, Terance Frazier, via a nonprofit.

The hitch? Frazier’s nonprofit does charge a fee for entrance to the park.

At one point during debate over the tax diversion on Thursday, Fresno City Council member Miguel Arias proposed drastically upgrading to dedicate half of the annual tax revenue for Club One – or roughly $500,000 annually – to offset road impacts.

City officials said roads would be excluded from the language.

Fresno City Council member Garry Bredefeld pounced on the proposal, noting that Frazier could easily drop admission fees for the park to qualify for funds.

“So today [Granite Park] might not be accessible, but that doesn’t mean a month from now it won’t be accessible,” he said. “And so, if in fact, you take $120,000 or $500,000 as Council member Arias proposed, that could be use for the park that is operated by Terance Frazier.”

Bredefeld pressed the Council to delay action, citing an admonition from Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp to refrain from votes related to Granite Park.

Ultimately, the 12 percent card room tax diversion resolution was approved 5-1 with Bredefeld dissenting.

While the resolution is dependent on the 2022-2023 budget process next summer, reducing the number of card tables operating for the remainder of 2021 cuts into the amount of tax revenue potentially heading back into the parks, including the possibility of Granite Park.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.