The San Jose City Council approved outdoor gambling on Wednesday, paving the way for the return of casino gaming and poker in the city.
The city council included outdoor casino reopening plans as part of a sweeping measure that will allow businesses ranging from art studios and dry cleaners to move some of their operations into parks and onto public sidewalks. Many businesses, including casinos, remain shuttered nearly six months into the pandemic. Casino operations will be limited to the on-site parking lots.
Bay 101 and Casino M8trix operate the only legal card rooms in San Jose, but even with the ordinance passed Wednesday, must get written approval from city administrators before they can begin offering poker. All businesses must also complete Santa Clara County’s Social Distancing Protocol forms, and file with the county before moving any operations outside.
Bay 101 wasted no time in setting up a tent to allow the resumption of poker and other card games after a five-and-a-half month hiatus. A local news report provided a glimpse of what the new pop-up casino and poker room will look like.
The Great Outdoors?
Not surprisingly for politicians, the discussion regarding outdoor casino gaming centered on the loss of tax revenue. Councilman Raul Peralez, who helped push the open-air expansion, circulated a memo noting the forced closures of casinos resulted in a loss of nearly $13.5 million in tax revenue so far in 2020.
He said during the meeting that the council should “leave no stone unturned when it comes to creating desperately needed tax dollars for our community.”
“Anything Casino M8trix can do to get our employees back to work safely, to generate some much-needed tax revenue for the city of San Jose, and to provide outdoor entertainment and food and beverage to our amazing patrons, would be spectacular,” he said.
Bay 101 vice president Ron Werner indicated his casino will implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines such as no eating at tables, keeping six feet between players, and enforcing face mask requirements, even as play moves outdoors.
He also hinted at restrictions on the number of players at each table, so poker tables likely won’t be used at full capacity.
The ordinance allowing outdoor operations will expire on Dec. 31 or whenever the local state of emergency for San Jose ends, whichever comes first.
Card Room Expansion, Tax Increase on the Ballot
Voters will decide in November on the expansion of poker and an increase in taxes from card rooms. A ballot measure would allow card rooms to expand their number of tables by 15 at each casino, while also boosting taxes from 15% to 16.5%. The increased tax would generate an estimated additional $15 million in revenue for San Jose.
Voters previously approved a ballot measure in 2010 that raised the tax to its current level, and expanded the number of tables allowed in each casino to 49.