Adding a casino to an existing business is hardly an ‘incidental’ use

A few weeks ago, I learned at the same time and in the same manner as residents of Lake Stevens that a new casino would be opening in Frontier Village. As an opponent of expanded gaming, I was not pleased to see that the first casino opened in the unincorporated area of our county would be so close to a neighborhood.

Since that time, I have been working with neighbors in the Lake Stevens area, who have expressed concerns related to safety, traffic, lighting, crosswalks and cameras that are required by law to videotape areas where gaming takes place.

Thankfully, I have had the cooperation of the casino owners, their landlord, the Snohomish County Public Works Department and concerned neighbors as we’ve been able to begin work to address and resolve many of their immediate concerns. We will continue to work together on remaining items. I’ve pledged to sit down with all of the parties, after the business has had some time to operate, to re-evaluate the situation.

However, the larger and more complicated questions, shared by a majority of those who have contacted the County Council about this issue, are: How can gambling be introduced where it hasn’t been before without public input and why is the county code is silent on gambling operations?

Currently, our county code allows casinos such as this to operate as an "incidental use" to existing permits. Under existing law, licensing authorities are required to publish a notice naming the applicant, location of proposed business or other activity and the type of license or permit requested.

At that time, any citizen or business in Snohomish County can petition the licensing authority to consider denying the license/permit, in writing, within five working days following the public notice for consideration.

However, once a license/permit is granted, the business is not required to go through the process or seek public input for incidental use to that permit. This makes sense if you’re adding an espresso stand to a gas station, which is one example of how this process was intended to work.

I strongly doubt that the legislative intent behind this process would have allowed for the addition of a casino to an existing bar or restaurant facility without requiring public input or notification.

That seems wrong to me, and to others as well. The council has heard not only from the Lake Stevens area, but from other communities who are worried that casinos will spring up in their neighborhoods.

I have started the process to amend existing code to bring clarity to both incidental use code and the zoning matrix with respect to gaming. Both changes will strive to engage the public in these discussions.

Without ample opportunities for public input it becomes very difficult to know what changes are needed, such as improved traffic signage, lighting, crosswalks or other safety needs.

Last year, the council approved a measure that makes certain that any county tax revenue collected from such casinos will be earmarked to pay for public safety issues associated with their operation.

While I voted no on this legislation, for the simple fact that I feel it will expand gambling, at the very least such money will be available now to offset the salaries and benefits of deputy sheriffs relating to the control of gambling and such criminal activities that may be incidental to gambling.

Essential to any changes that we may propose is citizen input. I commend all those involved in the Lake Stevens area for opening the lines of communication and working to improve our community. I encourage citizens across our county with opinions in favor or in opposition to expanded gambling and public input into the permitting process to contact their council member.

Snohomish County Councilman Jeff Sax, a Republican, represents District 5 in East Snohomish County.

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