Owners of the Wine Country Cardroom and Restaurant will be coming to the city of Lodi soon to ask to remain open an additional four hours, so it can compete with other 24-hour cardrooms.
The cardroom, which has various forms of poker, is open from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m., but the owners would like it to be open 24 hours. They also want to offer credit to customers and accept personal checks.
The owners will also ask to reduce the 9 percent of revenue they contribute to the city in order to do more advertising and promotions.
"We are still kind of handcuffed on certain restrictions," said Scott Vanderwilt, the general manager.
The requests come directly from listening to what their customers want, said Chris Ray, who is the cardroom's vice president. The hope is to take the proposals to the council in the next 60 days, he said.
"Our future business success shouldn't be impeded by the city," Ray said.
In a 4-1 vote in April 2008, the Lodi City Council approved allowing the cardroom to add three tables for a total of 11 and add new games. The council also approved expanding the hours from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Even though they received permission, the cardroom did not start offering the three new games — blackjack, three-card poker and double hand poker — until August 2008, because they had to get them approved through the state. With the expansion of hours, tables and games, Vanderwilt said the cardroom and restaurant has hired 30 more people for a total of 86 employees, most of them full-time.
The cardroom has worked on all the conditions that the city has given them, including paving the parking lot, which was complete in mid-December, Ray said.
"We are trying to support and be an asset to the community," Ray said. "Since we have opened, it has been the opposite of what people had predicted."
Police calls have increased at the cardroom to 31 from April 2009 to March 2010 when compared with nine from April 2008 to March 2009, said Lt. Chris Piombo.
Of the 31 calls, seven were medical calls and one was a fire alarm. Six were alcohol-related disturbance calls, drunk in public or driving while under the influence, Piombo said. The remaining 17 were a variety, including theft, traffic accidents, counterfeit bills or suspicious circumstances.
Even with the increase, Sgt. Mike Oden said the number of alcohol-related calls does not come close to the rest of the bars in Lodi, and that number is "very low."
The cardroom has security equipment installed throughout the establishment and parking lot, Ray said, and they want to work well with the police.
"People are still afraid to come here, and when the doors are open, they are like, 'Wow, this is not what I expected,'" Ray said.
Though she was originally concerned about the cardroom, Vickie Cantrall said, "We haven't had any problems." She lives in Century Place, which is across the street and down from the business. She does not believe making it 24 hours will probably change anything.
"As long as it doesn't turn into a full-on casino," Cantrall said.
But Leslie Glover, who also lives in that neighborhood, is worried about the effect 24 hours could have on the neighborhood. While she does not think that the cardroom has affected Century Place, she no longer takes nighttime walks outside of her neighborhood.
"It just brings in the wrong type of people," Glover said. "It is usually the ones that are 24 hours that are pretty shady."
As the lone "no" vote against the cardroom expansion in April, Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock said she wants to reserve judgment on the cardroom proposals until they are before the council and she sees a staff report.
Her main concern is ensuring the cardroom mitigates any effect it has on its residential neighbors when possible.
"Whenever you change the zoning around people's homes, I'm always cognizant of what will that do to their property values and what type of concerns that they have," Hitchcock said.
Councilman Bob Johnson said he is not surprised that the owners have returned to ask for more changes because at the April meeting, they said they might be back.
Johnson, Councilman Larry Hansen and Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce said they also want to reserve comments on the proposals until it is before the council.
Here are the basics of the four proposals the cardroom will bring before the council:
Opening 24 hours
Even with the expansion of hours in April, the cardroom is still losing customers to other 24-hour cardrooms in the area, Vanderwilt said.
"People will say, 'Who's going to be playing at 4 a.m.?' There is a misconception that only the scum of the Earth come out at that time," Vanderwilt said.
He said some of their customers work night jobs, and then come in on their day off. Also, there are some people who want to come in early in the morning and jump into an already established game.
Because the Lodi cardroom does not open until 8 a.m., Vanderwilt said customers are going to Manteca, Jackson or Sacramento because they do not want to wait for the games to start.
Providing credit and accepting checks
The cardroom wants to loan credit to its patrons through an outside company and be able to cash personal checks.
"We have people who want to come in and play and have fun, but don't want to have a bunch of money with them," Vanderwilt said.
Players would have to apply to qualify for credit, and the outside company would do an extensive background check of the players, including how much liquid assets they have. He said it would not be a one-day process, so players who had a bad day couldn't make a rash decision and apply for credit.
"It's not like we are not trying to pawn someone's watch. But we do have some big players who don't want to bring a lot of cash in," Vanderwilt said.
The cardroom can also get software to verify that the checks are authentic, Vanderwilt said. Plus, it will only take personal checks, not welfare checks, which is a common misconception, he said.
The cardroom has an ATM, but there is a limit on how much people can withdraw.
Adjust the fees the cardroom pays
The city estimates that the cardroom will contribute $180,000 to the city's General Fund in fiscal year 2009-2010, which ends June 30, city spokesman Jeff Hood said. The General Fund pays for most of the city's services, like police, fire and library.
But Ray estimates the cardroom's contribution will be higher because the last check they sent the city for the month of March was for $27,000.
The estimated revenue for fiscal year 2010-2011 is $230,000, Hood said.
The cardroom is required to provide the city with 9 percent of its revenue. Because they are giving the city that slice of their revenue, Ray said it has made it hard to do promotions.
"I know the city needs income, but hopefully, with a Costco and Home Depot coming, that will provide some relief," Ray said.
He said the cardroom would like to give free meals to its players or to advertise around the area, since at least 80 percent of the players come from out of town, Vanderwilt said.
Another option is to purchase a player tracking system, so the cardroom could provide rewards for loyal players.
"The players feel more appreciated," Vanderwilt said.
The cardroom has not decided what percentage they are going to ask the city to adjust their percentage to. Ray said if the city decreased the percentage and the cardroom could advertise more, then it could actually increase the money going to the General Fund because more players would be coming.
Some of the surrounding cities like Manteca and Stockton require significantly lower contributions, Vanderwilt said.
"That's our direct competition, so it's hard to compete with that," he said.