The Limited Future of San Diego’s Cardrooms

The Limited Future of San Diego’s Cardrooms


I’m here at the Palomar Card Club In North
Park. It’s a Thursday afternoon and this
place is packed. But unless the rules change,
all of these people will have to find somewhere
else to play.
Hahaha. Hey you got a bonus. Hey.
Pat O’Malley has been coming to the Palomar
for more than fifteen years. He’s a retiree
and says playing cards is his pastime. He
plays about three days a week.
It’s ten to fifteen minutes from the house.
It’s much easier than going all the way
out to the casinos and that. And it’s like
a home place. Everybody’s friendly, everybody
knows your name.
Luck of the Irish.
O’Malley says he sees more young people
coming to the club lately, as poker sheds
its seedy reputation and becomes a form of
popular, mainstream entertainment.
But San Diego city rules haven’t kept up
with the times. Currently, the law says when
the owners of the city’s last two cardrooms
pass away their businesses have to close up
shop too.
Nick Salem is general manager of the Palomar
Card Club. He says the law isn’t fair. Now
the owners of his card club and the Lucky
Lady, the city’s other cardroom, are in
the beginning stages of trying to change the
law. Salem estimates between seventy and eighty
jobs at each club could be lost if the law
isn’t changed.
Keeping our job is very important for all
of us. Obviously, it’s good for everyone.
You have just a good successful business going
and not stopping. Not shutting down after
awhile. And San Diego, every city now, in
this economy, needs that.
San Diego is the only city in the county that
limits ownership transfers. The rules were
passed in the 1980’s. The law was meant
to gradually phase out the businesses. The
owners of the remaining to rooms are now in
their seventies.
Councilwoman Marti Emerald’s district includes
the Lucky Lady. She says the cardrooms haven’t
proved to be the nuisances officials once
worried they would be.
There’s no question that these businesses
can be successful. It’s just that we’ve
inherited an ordinance that says we’re phasing
them out. And until the City Attorney tells
us that we can reverse it or gives us more
meat that we can chew on here, we’ll have
to wait to see what the city can or is willing
to do.
The city has made an effort help out the cardrooms.
A council committee recently recommended allowing
two more tables at each, for a total of eleven
tables per cardroom.
And the business districts for the College
Area and El Cajon Boulevard have written in
support of changing the ownership regulations
so the rooms can continue to operate.
But San Diego State Gaming Professor Jeff
Voyles says laws are difficult to change,
especially when it comes to gambling.
It’s a very close-knit business and industry
so there’s not a lot of people out there
that can operate cardrooms or understand the
logistics behind a cardroom. So I don’t
see it changing very quickly.
Still, Voyles says poker is becoming a more
accepted form of mainstream entertainment.
That’s something the city’s last two cardrooms
hope will work in their favor as San Diego
begins considering whether to let the rooms
play another round.

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