Quite a Gamble

Last week was a big one in the history of card clubs and gambling in San Jose. Historically, in restaurants and small entertainment venues, such clubs thrived. In the old Garden City Hofbrau on Market Street, the card tables were an interesting sideline in a very small room, just like the old liquor store on the corner. Food and music were the main items. That changed as the potential for additional revenues grew, and the appetite for more and better venues became paramount at Garden City, whose building was condemned in a strange city building fervor. 

Joe’s card club, across the street on Post, became a major part of the police department’s enforcement problem and was highly targeted by our very anti-gambling chief of police, Joe McNamara. Looking back, the original Garden City was quite quaint in the current scheme of things, and compared with the sixty-plus Indian gambling casinos across the state, a tiny, homegrown operation. The massive impact of Indian casinos on politics, politicians, and political campaigns in California shed a new light on gambling. They make the San Jose situation seem minuscule in comparison. But there is still a point to be made.

The owners of Garden City were the subject of some very stringent enforcement, grand jury probes and indictments, and received the harshest of sentences. That should have been a lesson to the city. It wasn’t.

Under Susan Hammer and her budget director, Bob Brownstein, a very permissive attitude evolved, and a gigantic club, Bay 101, was permitted. They made large contributions to politicians and had significant ethical problems involving the same. At one time, they and their lobbyists were the most powerful special interest political donators in the city.

That was then; this is definitely now.

The city seems to be in a delicate budget situation that dictates that a deal with the card clubs is again necessary. Certain council members put the mayor in a difficult position in this discussion on card clubs and city finances. What is hard to fathom is why the city feels that threats from the card clubs—who now cannot contribute to political campaigns by ordinance—are being allowed to intimidate the city in such matters as ballot measures that provide the funds for libraries, parks and, indeed, the very cops that are supposed to police them. In a way, the potential objects of police attention are threatening to cut off the dollars to the police who are charged with controlling them.  This is a very odd turn of events, to say the least.

I suggest that to avoid this attempted blackmail, a modest proposal would be an emergency ordinance forbidding the card clubs from contributing to any local measure that involves the funding of basic city services. This should be permissible, and it should be further extended to all local ballot measures.  And a get-tough policy with the long efforts to end card clubs and their associated problems in our city should occur. The issue, now stalled by expensive legal blockades, should be pursued aggressively.

In all this, a simple question pops to my mind: Can any city allow one or two card clubs—and their high cost to the police, judicial, and other parts of the criminal justice system, not to mention the price of gambling addiction to families—to hold hostage the attempts to provide basic city services? I think it is time for the city to take off the kid gloves and draw a line on the green felt.


  1. Tom:

    Can you tell us why Chuck Reed campaigned against gambling with you and then proposed expansion? 

    I cannot name a more hypocrtical act in San Jose politics, can you?


  2. Mr. Dre – sorry you lost your old or future job in the Gonzales era. I propose things that I have an ownership interest in – therefore, I register under city reform legislation. People in this city know me, and have made up their minds on me long ago, but nice try. Your ‘swiftboating’ is so clearly motivated by politics that I hesitate to comment, but I thought some attention to you might make your life a bit more interesting. Keep blogging and be sure to copy your bosses.  TMcE

  3. Hey, Tom,

    Uh, please elaborate. You allude to things which you seem to think are common knowledge, but aren’t. What are Bay and Garden City doing to intimidate council members on libraries and parks? I’m not saying that they aren’t, it just doesn’t make any intuitive sense that they would. Why would they do this and with what methods are they doing it? I’m a card player who likes going to Bay, so this is fairly important to me.

    -Sean M.

  4. I really hate the puritanical streak in some officials around here (Constant, etc). Card clubs are not mindless money toilets like slot machines. They are not purely for the sake of milking the desperate and creating broken homes. There’s nothing wrong with some regulated fun. I think these clubs should be expanded but relegated to a specific district to ease suburban worries while creating a livelier atmosphere with some revenue for the city.

  5. Sean
    The clubs have made it clear to the City Council through their reps that they would fight some/all of the city’s initiatives on the ballot unless an accommodation was made with them.  Pure, but not simple.  TMcE

  6. Tom #6—isn’t thast what lobbyists are paid to do?

    I don’t go to the clubs, but they are legal and provide entertainment to some folks.  True, there are some who overdo it, to the detriment of themselves and their families.  But the same is true of booze, and we saw what ill effects that Prohibition had.

    I’m more interested in these vague innuendos that there is some HUGE crime problem associated with the card clubs.  I’d like SJPD to provide hard statistics on that one in order to make my own judgment on how widespread these alleged problems of theft and loansharking really are.

  7. #7

    …alleged problems of theft…

    They are not “alleged”.  They are fact.

    I went there with a few hundred dollars one night, and left with zero.  I was robbed!!

  8. #8:  robbed by a gunman, or lose at the tables?  If you were robbed by a gunman, I am sorry for you.

    Even if you were robbed by a gunman, one robbery outside a business hardly justifies closing it down.  If that were the law, we wouldn’t have many 7-11s left.

    I’d like to see statistics that there is a serious and continuing problem in and around the clubs before making a judgment on the matter.

  9. Good point, Weeping WG – unlike JMO’C and others, I don’t think that “San Jose, the CAPITAL OF FLEA MARKETS AND CARD CLUBS”  is much of an image. I think we can do better. The stats, clear and obvious, are powerful. These casinos are relatively small here, but particularly the Indian gambling ones statewide, are massive political players who control many politicians and corrupt the electoral system. It is not heathy. Remember, this is a far cry from the quaint, family owned Garden City is past days.  TMcE

  10. I’d be OK with gambling in San Jose if there was some mechanism of prohibiting those who are on public assistance from using them. Since this is probably not possible I’ll side with the Mayor on this one.
    You want to throw your money away at cards? Fine. I don’t think it’s too much of a hardship to drive to the nearest reservation.

    Let’s start acting less like Mr. Potter and more like George Bailey.

  11. #12 Tom,
        Maybe we should get rid of the Flea Market in Barryessa.Then we would have this empty piece of land for “BART” station.
        Seems that I remember the political problems tied to the original owner of the Garden City and his close political friends in San Jose and how he tarnished their image.Seems like he took a lot of politicians down with him.Do you remember who some of his close political friends were? They all made the San Jose Merc.

  12. Tom #12 opined:“The stats, clear and obvious, are powerful.”, without giving us one single stat.  SHOW ME THE STATS, Tom, and if they are as powerful as you say, I could change my mind.  To simply say so without providing a single one is hardly convincing.  They taught you to debate better than that at Bellarmine, didn’t they?  If not, get a rebate on your tuition.

    And, Puhleeeze,Tom, San Jose isn’t the capital of anything…not even sprawl, L.A. has that honor.

  13. JMO’C
      HIre someone else as your stat person. Go to the PD and the stats are available. Do you want a cop at your home when you need it, or in the parking lot of Bay 101. Oh,and the really bad students from my old high school ( that you seem to have a strange obsession with) became lawyers. You seem to hate San Jose and defend it in alternate posts: curious.  TMcE

  14. 11. Yes, they do. Although you might say that those places didn’t have much in the way of image in the first place.  But on the other hand, lots of people seem to like to go to those places. I’m not among them.

    12. Since this about the first time in the last 230 years that Indians have had any political influence in California, I find it hard to get too worked up about it.  And in what period of history did California have a non-corrupt electoral system?  The Bear Flag Republic?

    Not that I’m in favor of corruption, but I am reminded of Claude Rains in “Casablanca”.

    I don’t see what’s so terrible about being known for the Flea Market.  It’s free market capitalism in action, the little guy following his dream, work hard and get ahead, the land of opportunity for everyone, America rolling up its sleeves and getting down to business.  London has its Portobello Road, we have our Flea Market.  Maybe instead of KTEH rerunning old “Lovejoy” shows from the 1980s, they could make a show about a loveable rogue at the Flea Market and put us on the map.

    When contractors have police directing traffic at a building site, do not the contractors have to pay for this?  Couldn’t the city require card clubs to do something similar?

    With the amount of money they pull in, hiring a few off-duty cops wouldn’t break the bank.

    If people want to do something to cut back gambling, maybe instead of requiring 8th graders to learn algebra, they should have a compulsory course in probability and statistics.

    (OK, you would probably have to do algebra before doing probability.  And I realize that if the general public understood statistics, that would be a politician’s nightmare, so it’s never going to happen.)

  15. Tom #17—It’s easy to claim you have stats.  But your refusal to reveal any of them speaks volumes.  Hopefully someone who is out to close the clubs will provide us with some numbers.

    There are some things I like about SJ and some things I do not.  I speak my mind re both. To most folks, there’s nothing “curious” about liking some things and disliking others. I am not the “Good German” you required of all in your administration, where questioning and dissent were unwelcome.

  16. mr.o’connor only one axin’ da right questions. whereas mcenery yakkin’ but ain’t proved nothin.

    dear fatcattammanyhallmcenery: where be yo stats? why da innuendos of corruption wit out actually da proof?

    den you try da fallacy of attackin’ da arguer instead of da argument. i believe it be called ad hominem. then you go on with an Ad Hominem Tu Quoque by saying he once was for and now against the city.

    Then you go on to misleading vividness, slipperyslope, etc., and i love the red herring about flea markets.

    then in the end, you STILL ain’t made a convincing argument.

    i see why you was elected mayor: it was a time when da internet wasn’t around to reveal your moronic rants. i doubt now you’d get very far wit all dese brainiacs surfing da net waitin’ ta have a bite of yo illogical, fear-mongering behind like sharks to fetid chum.

    stik ta real estate, an leave da tinkin’ to dose wit da blessed gift of cogent thought.

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