The Lodi City Council agreed to allow the Wine Country Cardroom and Restaurant to have a cap on the fees it turns over to the city, as well as two new tables and a change in hours.
In a 4-0 vote, the council approved the changes, which have been in the works since at least February. During that time, the council approved sending the proposals to the California Attorney General's Bureau of Gaming Control, which has to sign off on any changes to state cardrooms.
Both Mayor JoAnne Mounce and Councilman Bob Johnson agreed they were willing to support the changes for the Wine Country Cardroom and Restaurant — the city's only cardroom — because opponents initial concerns about the gambling business causing public safety issues have not happened.
"All the threats and concerns of you being Sodom and Gomorrah have not come to fruition," Councilman Bob Johnson said.
The cardroom is now allowed to have two additional tables, bringing the limit to 13. They can extend credit and cash checks, which owners said is geared toward people who do not want to leave or visit the cardroom with large sums of cash. The cardroom no longer has limits on how many players can be at a table, and gaming can now take place in any room, as opposed to previous requirements that gaming rooms had to have an exterior unlocked door.
The number of hours will remain the same but are being shifted from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. to 5 a.m.
The item that created the most discussion was changing the fees the cardroom pays. Currently, the cardroom turns over 9 percent of its earnings to the city, which is higher than any other city in the state, said Steve Snider, one of the cardroom owners.
The new license fee will be $20,000 for the first $240,000 of monthly gross revenue and then 4.5 percent of any revenue over $240,000.
Under the 9 percent fee, the cardroom would pay $428,386. Under the new capped version, the city will receive $324,593.
Snider said he understands why a city might be hesitant to reduce a fee and receive less money. The cardroom plans to use the money for advertising, promotions and operations.
"We are looking at a win-win. If we are allowed to grow and prosper, that would actually be a bigger pie for everyone," he said.
Snider focused on the positive aspects of the cardroom. The business employees 90 people and has a $2 million yearly payroll.
The cardroom is one of the few thriving businesses where it is located, Snider said. It is south of Kettleman Lane on Cherokee Lane near a Highway 99 entrance ramp.
"It's a little bit bleak down there, and we are in a building that we have improved and maintained and we create a safe environment," he said.
One of the other big advantages is that the cardroom's clientele tends to come from outside the city limits.
"You look at the winery campaign, and that's the whole goal, to have people come to Lodi and participate. That's exactly what we are doing," he said.
Snider ended by saying the growing success of the business should have some influence on the council's decision.
"My entrepreneurial sense is that the people who pay the money, sign the long-term leases and bear all the risk should have some of the reward as well," he said.
Councilman Alan Nakanishi said he would support the changes because of many of the reasons Snider mentioned, especially the cardroom's focus on safety concerns.
Mounce said she regularly eats at the restaurant and thanked the owners for listening to the public's worries at the beginning.
"There was such concern from the neighbors about what the cardroom would bring, and quite frankly, we haven't seen that," she said. "You've been a good neighbor and you've improved that part of town."