October 3, 1992
By Yolanda Reynolds
The San Jose City Council, led by Mayor Susan Hammer, rejected a proposal to curtail the practice of cashing checks at card room clubs in San Jose.
Councilman David Pandori had recommended increasing the city’s (law enforcement) ability to monitor the check cashing policies of local card rooms.
According to the attorney, Frank Nicoletti, for the largest card room business in northern California – Garden City, a gambler is only allowed to cash a check if they have been pre approved and have at least five times the amount of the check in their bank account and that those checks were deposited in the bank within 24 hours.
That all sounded fair at least on the surface. Several council members in opposing Pandori’s proposal said that the City could not regulate morality.
That is an interesting position, since the city has banned smoking in public areas at City Hall and the painting of graffiti anywhere in San Jose an activity that the Council believes merits a jail sentence. Both activities – which for some people is “entertainment” and in the case of “tagging” is, for some, a form of speech.
John Morales, a student of San Jose State University and the volunteer coordinator of the committee for Card room Controls, urged the City Council to approve Pandori’s recommendation. Morales explained that providing counter checks encourages indebtedness and lends itself to even more crime – in that loan sharks prey upon losers; who will try to immediately recoup losses by gambling even more, in order to redeem their checks.
According to Gambling Anonymous, one aspect of addictive gambling behavior is the uncontrollable desire to recover losses. That, they say is generated by the need to recover a gamblers self-esteem, as well as, to recover the loss of money to gambling-money often badly needed by their families.
This writer was present at an earlier city council meeting at which time the City voted to expand the number of games allowed, when just such an example was described by the wife of an addicted gambler.
At that meeting a woman came before the Council tearfully urging the council not to expand the games. She explained that, for some players, addicted like her husband, the consequences of gambling were devastating, not only to him but to herself and their children.
She explained that her gambling husband, who frequented the Garden City, owed thousands of dollars and that she and her family were threatened with bodily harm if he or his family, did not clear his debt.
At that time, as now, the card room most prominent in the discussions were the Garden City Card Club.
Morales during his testimony read before the Council a San Jose news account in which a Southern California card room owner said that his debtors, for whom he issued checks “understood broken arms and legs and that he did not have to bother with the courts to collect money owed him.”
Morales also reminded the City Council that several months ago, a woman. Lon Thi Palmer, was found dead on the rear floorboard of her car in the parking lot of the Garden City Card Club. Though the case has not been solved – the police do know that she was in deep debt to loan sharks.
Just last month a child was murdered in San Francisco. Police have said that they believe that he was murdered because acquaintances of his mother owed large sums of money to loans sharks. That case is not yet solved.
Rachel Silva, a San Josean, said that she supported Pandori‘s proposal because “continued gambling lowers self-esteem to gamblers when they lose.” She added that they end up borrowing large sums of money in order to regain their self-esteem and as a consequence end up gambling even more.
Another San Josean who spoke, Dale Warner, said that be found the loophole in the City’s Ordinance “troubling” because it can, and has, lead to serious problems and urged that the City Council approve Pandori’s proposal, that the matter undergo a thorough analysis.
The Mayor and many of the Council reacted in a hostile way to the proposal and openly favored the card room apologists. In the course of the Tuesday afternoon discussion by the members of the City Council, Mr. Nicoletti, the Garden City Card Club attorney would just walk up to the speaker’s podium and interrupt whenever he wanted to. One of the Garden City Card Club owners, Nick Dalis, stepped forward several times, to clarify remarks made by this attorney even though he had not filled out speakers form to do so.
On other occasions, such actions would be strongly rebuked by the Mayor. In fact, the usual 5-minute restriction for public testimony seemingly was not applied – as Mr. Nicoletti was allowed to go on and on.
This writer was at a recent Council meeting in the evening at which a distraught woman was weeping, as she recounted in Spanish how she and and her family had been treated by the police. Mid-sentence in her sobbing account, Mayor Hammer informed the woman that her two minutes were up and would she “wrap it up.”
Ernestina Garcia, a Council member of La Confederación and a member of the Committee for Card room Controls, said that gambling is especially attractive to and hard on poor families who are so desperate for a solution to their problems that they turn to gambling.
There are few winners except for the cardroom owners, who charge a fee for each hand that is played and of course the loan sharks. Hammer appeared to be very angry with the proposal and through the course of the discussion, frequently left her seat to consult with Councilwoman Shirley Lewis, the most ardent supporter of the card club operation. Lewis feels that the City is far too restrictive on them.
The City’s attorney, Joan Gallo, explained that the police have always expressed concern about the practice of counter check cashing in cardrooms but at the behest of the cardroom interests, this problem has not been addressed because it was decided by the city attorney’s staff that this issue was outside of the City’s policy directive regarding a revision to the city’s card room ordinance.
Hammer at one point showing her irritation at having to discuss the issue, remarked that she saw “nothing wrong (in the check cashing since) there is not a damn thing in it for the Garden City.”
In spite of the police request for a study regarding check cashing at card clubs, the City Council voted against a “study of the practice.” The vote was Stabile, Ianni and Pandori for the study. Jim Beall, though there earlier, was absent when the vote was taken.
During the discussion, Chief Mallet explained that without a revision to the newly adopted ordinance, it was difficult to enforce the city code, which states “it is unlawful for any card room permittee, owner or employee to engage in the lending of money, chips, tokens or anything of value, either real or promised, to any person or persons for the purpose of allowing that person to eat drink or play cards.”
Another section also states that, “it is unlawful for the card room permittee, owner or employee to cash any personal check which does not state the amount on the face of the check.”
Bell Chew, a mayoral candidate along with Susan Hammer in the last mayoral election, hearing the decision of the Council left the council chambers holding his nose.
A number of citizens have formed a group, the Committee For Card room Controls, because they feel that Mayor Hammer and some of the council members “have lost the political will to maintain strict controls over card room high-stakes gambling.” They are preparing to place an initiative on the ballot to provide for a public vote on the issue of card room controls. Since signature gathering for the initiative does not end in time for the November election that Initiative will appear on the next general election ballot (1994).
For more information on the gambling ordinance contact Councilperson David Pandori at277-4241, City Attorney, Joan Gallo at 277- 4454 or the Committee for Cardroom Controls at 923-5836. © La Oferta Newspaper.