It's not in the cards: Kenmore spot to close
June 29, 2009 · 5:48 PM
By this time tomorrow, the last card should have been dealt, the last jackpot collected.
Under an agreement Frank Evans said was reached with city attorneys and the state gambling commission, he and wife Joann were scheduled on June 30 to close the card room attached to Kenmore Lanes, which the couple jointly owns and operates.
While local public debate over the issue may go on, the closure ends gambling in the city and puts a cap on the long-running battle between the card room’s operators and city officials, a battle Frank Evans said he tried to take all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the end, Evans said the court decided, without comment, against hearing an appeal stemming from a ban on card rooms and gambling passed by Kenmore City Council in December 2005. The card room had been operating since then thanks to a federal injunction.
“We have been down every avenue we could think of,” Evans said, claiming his representatives tried to contact city officials to work out a compromise but “got no response.”
For his part, Kenmore Mayor David Baker said the closure of the card room “came as a complete surprise.” He said prior to the announcement of the closure, his understanding was that there was a formal court appeal under way. Baker said the subject of arranging a closure date had been broached by city attorneys, but council never had taken any action on the issue.
Baker wouldn’t say flat out whether he believed the gambling ban was or was not appropriate.
“This all started long before us,” he said.
“It saddens me to see anyone run out of our community in such an undemocratic manner,” said Councilman John Hendrickson. “This entire episode has bred a culture of power politics that seriously undermines and erodes the much-needed principles of accountability and transparency.”
A proposed gambling ban was put to a local public vote in 2004 and failed to pass voter muster. Councilmembers declared the public vote to be advisory and outlawed gambling in Kenmore the following year.
According to Evans, the closure of the card room means the loss of about 120 jobs. Joann Evans said thanks to the employee-intensive card room, Kenmore Lanes had one of the highest payrolls in the city at about $3.8 million annually.
“It stinks,” card-room dealer Brett Clark said of the closure.
While he will remain with Kenmore Lanes in some capacity, Clark was angry that many of his co-workers will be forced into unemployment. A nine-year employee of the card room himself, Clark said Frank and Joann Evans inspired loyalty among their workers.
“A lot of us have been here a long time and we’ve stayed for the fun, family atmosphere,” he said.
A 15-year employee of the card room and a Kenmore resident, Lou Ann King said she is one of those out of a job.
“I’m grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Evans for putting out the effort to keep this place open,” she said.
Those out of work include not just card dealers, but security personnel, cashiers, wait staff and others. At the same time, both owners added the future of the bowling facility’s 50 lanes is in doubt.
Joann Evans described Kenmore Lanes as the largest bowling facility “north of Reno and west of the Mississippi.” But her husband rattled off the names of a number of local bowling alleys he said had closed in the last few years.
“Do the math,” Frank Evans added.
The closure of the card room also means approximately $500,000 less in annual taxes flowing into city coffers, Evans said. According to numbers supplied by Hendrickson, the card room has contributed a total of about $5 million in taxes since 1998.
Regarding the loss of tax revenue, Baker said Kenmore will not be overly affected. For roughly four years, he added, officials have not counted dollars coming from the card room when preparing the city’s operating budget, presumably in preparation for the day the casino might have to close.
According to Frank Evans, the battle over the business he and his wife bought in 1994 began a matter of weeks after Kenmore was incorporated in 1998. He claimed the city’s first mayor, Jack Crawford, told him in person that he intended to see the card room closed.
Crawford died last year.
In summing up, Frank Evans said he has regulars who come to the card room almost every day, some of them senior citizens he feels may have no where else to go.
“What’s wrong with them coming here to play poker? Who are they hurting? It doesn’t make sense.”