Marina council says deal ‘em Second card room headed to town


By Royal Calkins

The Marina City Council debate Wednesday night and Thursday morning focused on whether the small city should have a second card room, but the overarching issue was what kind of city it could and should become.

In the end, the council decided on a 3-2 vote to let the cardroom come in, which several speakers declared to be a terrible idea. But Mayor Bruce Delgado championed the gambling enterprise and argued that it would help Marina become less of a bedroom community and more of a fully functioning city. Or, as he continued, a place where doctors, lawyers and other well-heeled Peninsula dwellers would come to dine and play rather than a place everyone leaves for the same reasons.

Leaders of the one-time Army town have grumbled for decades about being in the shadow of the resort towns down the coast. Delgado and to a lesser extent council members Kathy Biala and Liesbeth Visscher argued that it’s time for the city to step up its game.

It was a long and heated debate with a large majority of speakers opposed, saying that having Parkwest Casinos set up shop would set the city in the opposite direction.

“This is not family friendly,” said a seemingly angry former council member Nancy Amadeo.

Former Planning Commissioner Greg Furey was having none of Delgado’s rationale. Like several others speaking remotely from home, he declared that the city is courting corruption. He also chastised Delgado for having met privately with a Parkwest representative and for participating in a town hall event with the card room backers earlier in the week.

Furey and several others questioned why the city had not performed any sort of cost-benefit analysis.

Based on the past performance of the existing Marina Club and defunct Mortimer’s, it’s reasonable to expect the Parkwest operation to generate at least $100,000 in gaming taxes annually in the early years, along with sales taxes from its proposed restaurant. Offsetting that would be the cost of additional police patrols plus the costs of licensing the 100 or so employees, auditing the business and collecting the taxes. However, no one on the city staff seemed to have any idea of how much all that would cost the city.

Unless litigation develops, the council vote allows the Parkwest chain of card rooms to take over the gaming license once held by Mortimer’s Club. That was a 10-table card room that once operated in a funky little pocket of businesses along Del Monte Avenue across a side street from the Marina Club, which also features 10 tables.

Naturally much of the talk was about crime, with potential card room neighbors and other residents arguing that the council was inviting more. As is usual when card rooms are proposed, the discussion centered on street crime such as robbery or public drunkenness rather than the type that most concerns law enforcement.

Acting Police Chief Steve Russo said there had been fairly regular police responses to the vicinity of the card operations but much of it may have actually stemmed from two bars and a shady massage parlor that previously operated there.

Gambling control agencies and others in law enforcement say they are more concerned about cheating, money laundering, loan sharking, drug dealing and prostitution — crimes that don’t tend to result in officers being dispatched. Those topics remained mostly unspoken. The previous owners of one of John Park’s clubs were found to have allowed a high-rolling gambler to launder millions in illicit cash through the gaming tables.

Park runs seven card rooms, including his most recent acquisition, the 165-table Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens.

The Parkwest people emphasized that the new Marina business could provide as many as 100 non-union jobs, including some paying a living wage. Council member Cristina Medina Dirksen, who voted against the plan along with Brian McCarthy, suggested the city pay more attention to the possible fate of the Marina Club’s 40 or so employees.

McCarthy said he conducted considerable research into gaming before Wednesday’s meeting. He said he likes to gamble a little himself but doesn’t think card rooms add value to a city.

The California Gambling Control Commission quietly awarded the seemingly dead Mortimer’s license to politically connected Parkwest a year ago. Unfortunately for Parkwest, though, it doesn’t come with an actual room in which poker and blackjack, etc., can be played. Parkwest apparently has obtained an option to buy a vacant parcel near where southbound Highway 1 enters the city but the land might be too close to Marina High School to satisfy gaming regulators.

The decision will reignite a search for a suitable location although Councilmember Visscher suggested there might not be a suitable spot. With no Marina property zoned for gaming, Parkwest will now need to identify a parcel and start a Planning Commission approval process that city staff said could take as long as 18 months.

Before the voting began, Dirksen and McCarthy voiced a long list of concerns about another card room. Dirksen unsuccessfully moved to postpone a decision until the city could perform a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether the card room operator has any pending disciplinary cases before the Gambling Commission.

It does.

Park has run afoul of the gambling commission in the past, most notably for allegedly violating rules intended to prevent card room operators from having an advantage over the gamblers, but his license appears to have never been in jeopardy.

At the moment, he is awaiting a hearing on a complicated accusation involving the interplay between his card room, a consulting company he owns and other related ventures. The principal concern involves the relationship between his companies and one operated by his cousin, Roy Choi of Los Angeles (not the noted chef of that name).

Choi’s company, Knighted Ventures, provides Parkwest with “proposition players,” gamblers who are paid to fill tables in order to start games.

The investigation that led to that accusation began when a dealer at a Parkwest club in Rancho Cordova was caught cheating in 2015 in league with Knighted Ventures. The gaming commission referred the matter to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, which declined to prosecute.

The commission found that no other card room operator in California had a consulting company helping run its gambling ventures. The commission also found that the relationship between the entities “undermines the public trust that the controlled gambling relationship operations covered by Fortiss’ contract with Knighted will be conducted honestly…”

A decade earlier, Park was fined $365,000 after gaming officials found him in violation of other rules involving proposition players. That case involved the so-called banking of card games.

Traditionally, blackjack and other forms of casino gambling were illegal in California because the games involved gamblers betting against the card room or the casino, also known as the house. That provided the operators an incentive to cheat.

To get around that, the law was amended to allow blackjack and other table games as long as the players were betting against one another rather than the house. To make that work, card room operators set it up so the players take turns serving as the house while betting against each other. A card room employee deals the cards but doesn’t play the game. Players taking their turn as bank can make good money from a good hand or lose significantly from a bad one.

Tribal casinos operate under different rules.

In 2011, the commission accused Park of breaking those rules by having proposition players, his employees, serve as the bank when it was their turn. He argued that his operation wasn’t benefiting from the arrangement but the commission felt otherwise.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at

One thought on “Marina council says deal ‘em Second card room headed to town

  1. How do we ‘recall’ these 2 Council-members & the Mayor? I moved to Marina 2 years ago & the ‘Builder’ never informed me about this dictator – type City where major decisions re our City’s future are not ‘voted on’ by the city’s constituents (which is the American way…FYI), yet rather a ‘few’ who don’t abide by the resident’s concerns or voice. This also includes the ‘Desal Plant’ which was railroaded on us, as well! Marina residents have every right to demand our property taxes be lowered, because this is adversely affecting our home values. I regret moving here. This sickens me…

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