Playing a new card

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

EDMONDS – A local politician has launched an initiative to add Edmonds to the growing list of cities banning minicasinos.

But the campaign may be much ado about nothing, because a high city tax on minicasinos has effectively kept them away, said Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson.

"My belief is that at this point it’s a nonissue," he said.

That hasn’t deterred city councilman Dave Orvis, who, along with several volunteers, recently started collecting signatures at local grocery stores in hopes of getting his initiative on the November ballot.

Though Edmonds has none of the minicasinos, which can house as many as 15 gambling tables, Orvis said he wants to guard against any in the future. A local restaurant and bar, Marty’s, applied nearly two years ago for a state license to open a minicasino, known officially as an enhanced card room.

"I’m concerned about both the impacts on neighborhoods and the impacts on our local businesses," Orvis said.

The owner of Marty’s couldn’t be reached for comment.

Orvis launched the initiative after growing frustrated with what he saw as inaction by the city council. He broached the idea of a ban at a May city council meeting, according to council minutes. It was then referred to several committees, but never returned to the council.

City Councilman Dave Earling said he was surprised Orvis had turned to an initiative. Earling, who chairs the Finance Committee that considered the ban, said he thought Orvis was going to do more research and return with information.

The initiative would bar minicasinos and reaffirm the existing 20 percent tax on card room revenues. Orvis said he would need to collect about 2,300 signatures by the end of August to get the petition on the ballot.

Haakenson said the city’s tax, the highest state law allows, has proven enough to scare off prospective card room owners.

"That’s been an effective deterrent," he said.

He said that while owners of Marty’s applied for a license in 1998, they haven’t pursued it since.

The number of card rooms has increased from 81 to 90 in Washington in the past three years, after the state loosened restrictions.

That increase has been met with efforts by some cities to keep them away. At least five Snohomish County cities – Marysville, Lynnwood, Bothell, Brier and Mukilteo – have banned card rooms.

Orvis, however, said he fears a minicasino could still gain a toehold and that the city council could then be tempted to lower the tax rate. He said minicasinos could harm other restaurants in the city and that studies have found cities with casinos wind up with higher crime and suicide rates.

Haakenson, who didn’t say if he supported a ban, said people should weigh the benefit of tax revenues that a minicasino could bring to the city. In 1999, the top earning casinos had gross receipts ranging from $3 million to $12 million, according to a state Gambling Commission report. Taxes are based on gross receipts.

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to corn

wall@heraldnet.com.

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