Council votes to ban casinos

"This week's Port Orchard City Council meeting decided two matters related to casinos, one of which was no surprise: By a unanimous vote, the council authorized city staff to draft an ordinance that would ban such establishments within city limits. The second matter was surprising for the closeness of the vote. By a 4-3 margin in which Mayor Jay Weatherill was forced to cast the deciding vote, a divided council decided not to grant the owner of a Belfair casino additional time in which to provide information for his bid to move the casino to Port Orchard. Last month, the council blocked owner Henry O'Sullivan's application on grounds that it did not comply with a requirement to provide plans for exterior changes to the vacant West Bay Shopping Center. It also imposed a six-month moratorium on casinos to give the councilmembers time to study the issue. On Monday, O'Sullivan's attorney asked the council for 30 days in which to provide information about the proposed building changes. The council denied the request, but not before some pointed discussion among council members. Councilman Warren Van Zee, who voted for the moratorium and said he's opposed to gambling in general, expressed support for O'Sullivan's request. In particular, he cited an estimated 100 casino jobs that Port Orchard would lose if it blocked the casino, as well as a building that would remain empty and the loss of additional investment in that building. He also noted a positive recommendation by the city's planning commission.I just wonder if we have fully recognized what can happen, he said. Someone else will have jobs, tax revenue and the opportunity to increase their police force.If we didn't have any more gambling in Washington, I'd be happy, he said. But I wonder whether we're talking out of both sides of our face over a technicality.But Councilman Rick Wyatt said he would have a difficult time going along with a delay or approving the request based on the additional information. Michael Spence, O'Sullivan's attorney, said considering the additional information would be advantageous to both sides because it would provide firmer legal ground in case of an appeal. If the council denied the application along with the requested information, it would be a denial based on land-use issues, not procedural issues, he said. Wyatt, however, said the council has been there and done that and made a motion to deny the request. The motion was seconded by Carolyn Powers, who voted yes along with Wyatt and Bob Geiger. Van Zee was joined in voting no by Tom Stansbery and Don Morrison. Councilman John Clauson was absent.After the vote, approximately 30 people in attendance broke out into applause, as they did later in the meeting after the council voted unanimously to ban casinos. The ban would not affect current card tables at the Hi-Joy Bowl on Bethel Avenue, to which players bring their own money. Reached for comment on Tuesday, Spence said his client isn't sure whether to pursue an appeal against the city of Port Orchard. If successful, the action would likely result in a financial judgement and would not allow O'Sullivan to open his casino, because any new application would fall afoul of the city's moratorium or pending anti-casino ordinance. We're going to digest it for a couple of days, Spence said of the council's decision. "

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