San Jose City Council: Lawmakers looking at letting casinos open outdoors

Eyeing a heap of potential tax dollars left on the table, the San Jose City Council is considering allowing casinos to start operating outdoors.

If lawmakers greenlight outdoor gaming Sept. 1, San Jose’s two cardrooms, Bay 101 and Casino Matrix, could host customers outside under giant tents. This would allow businesses to space out customers and minimize the risk of COVID-19. It would also help the city regain tax revenue lost from casino closures.

“Currently, our city’s emergency order allows for a diverse array of business sectors to operate outdoors including now personal care businesses and retailers,” Councilmember Raul Peralez said in a memo. “However, permitted cardrooms, which in 2018-2019 generated $18.9 million in tax revenue, are not included in this list and that is a missed opportunity.”

Before COVID-19, San Jose’s cardroom taxes were expected to bring in $18.9 million, but that number dropped to $13.5 million after the casinos closed following shelter-in-place orders.

“With an estimated $100 million deficit looming over our city for the next two years, the city should leave no stone unturned when it comes to creating desperately needed tax dollars for our community,” Peralez said.

The CDC recommends casinos discourage eating at tables and keep players six feet apart. It also encourages businesses to install sneeze guards between players and at cash registers between customers and staff.

Bay 101 Vice President Ron Werner said if the city allows reopening, there will be restrictions on the numbers of players, glass shields between players and dealers, cleaning requirements and face mask requirements.

“Many people are anxious to get back to work,” Werner said. “We certainly hope that the council approves the cardrooms opening in an outdoor setting.”

As part of San Jose Al Fresco, the city’s outdoor business initiative, lawmakers earlier this month waived fees for the use of outdoor space, making it easier for businesses to open during the pandemic.

“I just want to treat these businesses fairly,” Councilmember Johnny Khamis told San José Spotlight. “They provide a lot of revenue for our city — revenue that we will need for the future because a lot of the other revenues are not coming in either.”

Khamis said casinos would need to work with the police department to make sure proper regulations and security checks are in place.

“The cardrooms have to spend a lot of money creating a system of cameras and checks and balances outside,” Khamis said. “But if they’re willing to spend all that money to do so, then they should be open.”

The council meets 11 a.m. Sept. 1. To watch, visit the San Jose YouTube page.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

This story will be updated to reflect the vote.

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