L.A. County Cities Ask to Continue Casino Operations Despite COVID Restrictions

Leaders of cities that host casino cardrooms have urged the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to revise the latest anti-pandemic restrictions that forced gaming venues to close for three weeks on November 30.

The city managers of Hawaiian Gardens, Bell Gardens and the City of Commerce gathered on Monday to make a joint plea to the county authorities to overhaul what they see as excessive measures, the Los Angeles Daily News reports. They insist that the casinos should continue to work with the safety precautions they have already implemented.

In their plea, the city managers warned about the economic impact of the shutdown on local communities and insisted that casinos are not hotbeds for coronavirus infection.

“Cardrooms have not been identified as a primary source of infections,” Hawaiian Gardens City Manager Ernie Hernandez commented, adding that communities of color are highly dependent on cardroom gaming. Speaking on behalf of the California Cities for Self-Reliance, he said that the restrictions imposed on casinos are arbitrary and lack scientific justification.

Bad for Business, Bad for Community

Hernandez threatened that Hawaiian Gardens, which have already laid off 40% of its city staff, would have to cut more jobs if the closures persist. “These are basic government services that people depend on for quality of life. For the sake of our community’s health, our future and thousands of public and private sector jobs, I implore the Board of Supervisor to make the right decision,” he said. The Gardens Casino accounts for more than 70% of all revenue for Hawaiian Gardens.

The General Manager of the Gardens Casino, Keith Sharp, echoed Hernandez’s concerns pointing out that cardrooms in the county had already collectively invested millions of dollars in safety equipment including plexiglass separators, outdoor air conditioning, outdoor tents and other infrastructure.

He assured that the casino would do its part in keeping the number of COVID infections at bay if allowed to do so. “Shutting us down won’t prevent the surge but it will mean thousands of people out of work, harming cities and putting more lives in peril,” Sharp added.

Bell Gardens Mayor Alejandra Cortez faulted the Department of Public Health and the Board of Supervisors for failing to involve the local cities and casinos in the decision-making process. She insisted that the city, with its impoverished community, has already suffered the effects of the pandemic in a number of ways without any bailouts. Bell Gardens lost the source if 50% of its revenue with the closure of The Bicycle Casino. “This could be the last nail for our businesses and city,” she insisted. “This is more than just gaming. It’s a vital resource to our community”.

Second Time’s the Charm

The collective plea by L.A. County city officials follows up on a successful push to reopen during the previous shutdown. Back in September, the mayors of five cities in the county asked for cardrooms to be allowed to operate outdoors after the San Jose City Council had recently allowed casinos to resume work on their parking lots.

A few weeks later, on October 5, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors authorized cardrooms to reopen outdoors, without serving food and beverages and with stringent safety protocols in place. This lasted less than two months as COVID-19 cases surged again, leaving the fate of the local gambling industry mired in uncertainty.

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