Gambling ban stops Snohomish seniors’ card games

SNOHOMISH — The Snohomish City Council has riled up its seniors.

Until last month, people at the 650-member Snohomish Senior Center were illegally gambling. They’ve been at it since 2009, when the City Council banned social card playing games. “They’re sometimes as dumb as a box of rocks,” poker player, Don Ness, 84, said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”

Unaware the rule applied to them, the seniors continued to gamble with nickels, dimes and quarters. Their luck ran out in December when the state Gambling Commission shut down their game with a warning letter, informing the center of the violation.

“It’s a crying shame,” Ness said. “It keeps your brain going.”

The seniors had to give up playing poker, bridge, pinochle and other games for cash.

“We had to start playing for chips but that’s not as much fun,” another player, Kathy Reed, 67, said.

In January, the council voted down a measure to exempt seniors from the ban. It modified the decision two weeks later, allowing nonprofits to play in their leased or owned spaces until April 30.

“It’s important for the old people to have something to do,” Harold McEntire, 75, said.

For now, gambling has resumed at the senior center. People are calling for the prohibition to be permanently lifted.

“We don’t want them sitting at home,” said Brenda Chovanak, senior program coordinator.

Many players form tight-knit friendships and build their schedules around the card games.

Center Executive Director Bob Dvorak said the card games reduce isolation for seniors.

“It’s a benefit to them mentally and physically,” he said.

Mayor Karen Guzak said prohibiting the seniors’ games was an unintended consequence of the council’s effort to prohibit commercial gambling.

Snohomish resident Morgan Davis, who attends most city meetings, said he thinks the ban was the result of the moral beliefs held by a few council members.

“It reminds me of that movie ‘Footloose’ where they thought dancing was the work of the devil,” said Davis, 72.

Lifting the ban for everyone, not just for seniors, could have economic benefits for the city, Davis said.

Coby Dilling, a Woodinville teacher and online business owner, said he wanted to open a saloon and riverboat downtown . It would have featured card games. The ban, he said, shut down his plan.

While he wasn’t looking to generate much revenue with low-stakes gambling, he wanted it to offer a different nightlife activity.

Dilling said he appreciates the character of Snohomish and had no intent to open a business that did not fit in with the city’s values.

“The last thing I’d want to see is strip mall casinos in Snohomish,” he said.

Still, he said, the city missed out on tax revenue from his business, and, potentially, from others.

The council has scheduled discussion of the card playing issue on the agenda for its Tuesday meeting. City staff want direction from elected officials on next steps.

People who frequent the senior center intend to pack the council chambers to ensure their voices are heard, though no action is expected.

“They oughta do something about it and let us play,” Herb Courtney, 94, said.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com.

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