Kenmore City Council should be ashamed

With the closing of Kenmore Lanes Casino yesterday, June 30, the City Council has finally “won” its hard-fought battle to rid the city of the “evils” of gambling while taking a step toward pushing its conservative, fundamentalist policies, appearing to be working in the best interest of the community. As a former seven-year employee of the facility, I would like to share some facts that citizens may not be aware of and make everyone aware of the long-term impact of the council’s decision.

Kenmore Lanes is, or should I say, was, far and away the largest employer and taxpayer in the city, paying $688,000 in revenue annually, which ironically went to the city of Kenmore’s Police Department to help keep Kenmore a safe place to live. More than 120 employees of the card room, many of which are Kenmore residents, just lost their jobs in the worst economic recession in recent history, and now must further stress government programs like unemployment, welfare and food stamps just to make ends meet.

Everyone always talks about the supposed negative side to card rooms, that they are magnets for gang activity and crime, etc., but the fact is that the Kenmore Safeway gets a substantially higher amount of police calls than Kenmore Lanes annually. The casino also drew a vast majority of its customers from outside the city, pumping the local economy and supporting local businesses, which will be no more.

Additionally, very few people realize the enormous amount of good things that have come as a result of the card room. The 50-lane bowling alley, the largest north of Nevada and west of the Mississippi, takes an enormous amount of money to upkeep and was largely subsidized by the card room. The facility has helped to keep kids off the streets by giving them a safe and fun place to hang out, and senior citizens a place to socialize and stay active. Kenmore has always been able to offer bowling at a significant savings compared to neighboring alleys like Kirkland’s Tech City Bowl, and have annually hosted groups like the Special Olympics bowling competitions that would otherwise have no place to go because other bowling centers simply charge too much or were going under, like Seattle’s landmark Leilani Lanes and Sunset Bowl in Ballard.

Due to the casino surplus, Kenmore Lanes has been able to host fund-raising events at very little up-front cost, benefiting great charities from Pasado’s Safe Haven to the Eastside Domestic Violence program, helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for worthwhile causes.

What kind of message does this send, that a family owned business that has been around much longer than the city of Kenmore itself essentially gets shut down when the City Council passes an ordinance to ban card rooms in spite of the citizens’ vote going the other way?

The owners of Kenmore Lanes and Casino, Frank and Joann Evans, went out of their way to take care of their employees and people in the community, not just in the casino but everywhere in the building. I and dozens of my co-workers over the years have taken part in their work-study program, almost unheard of outside of large corporations like Microsoft and Boeing. The program provided full-tuition reimbursement for any employee as long as they maintained a grade-point average of 3.0. The Evans’ generosity helped me be able to attend the University of Washington and earn a degree, which gave me the job I have today.

During the disastrous winter snowstorm of 2006 that knocked out power for weeks, Kenmore Lanes opened its doors as a temporary homeless shelter for anyone needing assistance, even serving up hot soup from the restaurant to hungry Kenmore residents that stopped in. Is this the kind of business and the kind of people the council wants to run out of town?

It’s common knowledge by now that certain councilmembers have received thousands of dollars under the table as campaign contributions by right-wing fundamentalist groups like Citizens for a Better Kenmore and specifically Christ Church of Kirkland, where three current councilmembers attend and most of the contributions came from, and both of these groups have been dead-set against Kenmore Lanes Casino since day one. Why should an institution, and a religious one at that, not even located in Kenmore have such a large say in local politics? So much for the separation of church and state.

In short, what happened is simply unjust. It’s not fair to the citizens of Kenmore, to the concept of democracy itself, or to anyone affiliated with Kenmore Lanes & Casino — particularly to those that have just lost their jobs for the wrong reason, myself included.

Tim Watanabe, Bothell

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