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.