City may have no choice but to OK casino

"When it comes to deciding whether to grant a permit to the Blackjack Creek Restaurant, Lounge and Casino proposed for location at the Westbay Shopping Center, the Port Orchard City Council's hands are essentially tied.The city planning commission found no legal reason to prohibit the business after four hours of discussion May 21, though three of the seven committee members cited social concerns and voted against recommending the proposal. The three of us who voted against it felt strongly it wasn't good for the health, safety and welfare of the city, said Fred Chang, a member of the Port Orchard planning committee. It's close to the KBS Skate Park ... I didn't feel it was a compatible use. The consensus was, it was kind of sad that was the best suggested use for that property, he added.Because the city currently does not have an ordinance prohibiting gambling, however, city councilmembers cannot prohibit or restrict the mini-casino for that reason. The council can apply only the same criteria it applies to other businesses - traffic and parking issues, for example, or permitting requirements.The city council could ban the casino for some other, non-gambling-related reason, though City Attorney Loren Combs said they might be hard-pressed to find one. That's going to be difficult here because it's going into an existing building, he said, complete with the hook-ups, parking lots and structural requirements for the use. But that's the quandary the council will have to address, Combs said. Because the application is up for council approval, council members cannot discuss their opinions on the casino's potential impact in Port Orchard. A date has not been set yet for public testimony on the mini-casino.Even if the city council were to pass an ordinance prohibiting mini-casino gambling, it would not apply to the Blackjack Creek Restaurant, Lounge and Casino application. They're entitled to be processed according to the laws in existence at the time of their application, Combs said.The council could, however, grant the permit to the mini-casino with a sunset clause and then pass an ordinance prohibiting mini-casinos in the future.But while there are those who oppose the casino, there are also those who support it. There is no evidence the mini-casino would increase crime in Port Orchard, as some opponents have suggested. Police Chief Alan Townsend submitted to the record that his department does not foresee a problem with the establishment. In fact, mini-casinos can have the opposite effect, Combs said. Mini-casinos are so tightly regulated, and the security ... they have less impact than a tavern or cocktail lounge, he said. They've got a cash cow they don't want to jeopardize.Furthermore, while the state has taken regulating authority from cities, it has given them the ability to tax casinos, which could be translated into additional city revenue for police, sidewalks and public buildings.Regardless of how the city decides to approach the casino, the fact remains the council won't be able to prohibit it. At this point, it goes before a public hearing, but the city cannot regulate gaming. It is outside the council's control, Combs said. Whether gambling is good for the community you can blame on the legislature. They've taken that authority away from local governments. "

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