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Cafe Arizona may convert from dance club to minicasino

"As a judge considers whether to allow Cafe Arizona to continue serving alcohol, the business is gearing up for a major change.And it will be a change that the club's attorney believes will benefit the city.Late last year, the three-member state Liquor Control Board decided not to renew the club's liquor license after Federal Way police complained that the club was a frequent site of criminal activity. Cafe Arizona is operating with a temporary license during the appeals process. Administrative law Judge Alice Haenle will preside over the appeal hearing, which begins Aug. 16.Attorney Ken Kagan, who represents Cafe Arizona, says the club's owners have applied to the Washington State Gambling Commission to become licensed as a card room. That would shift its focus away from a youth music format, he said.Deputy Public Safety Director Brian Wilson said he didn't have any comment on Cafe Arizona's desire to become a mini-casino. I don't have any comment on their pursuit of a gambling license, Wilson said, but I do have a comment on our ongoing process. We look forward to presenting information regarding the impacts to the city of Federal Way regarding the operation of their business. Construction has already begun to renovate Cafe Arizona's building to the Gambling Commission's specifications, Kagan said.The Gambling Commission hearing is scheduled for Sept. 14. If the commissioners grant the club's request, it will join three other mini-casinos in the city - PJ Pockets Casino, Players Casino and New Sonny's Casino.Prior to 1996, house banking was prohibited at card rooms, meaning players weren't allowed to bet against the business, otherwise known as the house. Instead, players paid the house a chair fee of up to $3 per half-hour to play cards and bet against each other. Also, card rooms could only have five tables.Legislation in 1996 increased the tables allowed to 15, and enabled the house to collect money through a per hand fee, a rake (a percentage of the total wagered) or the traditional chair fee. In 1997, legislation was passed to allow house banking.The state's decision to allow mini-casinos has proved profitable for the city of Federal Way because of its 20 percent social card games tax. The city had budgeted for about $500,000 in gambling taxes in 1999 and instead received $1.3 million in taxes, namely because of the growth in business at PJ Pockets Casino. Kagan says the shift in Cafe Arizona's emphasis isn't related to the liquor control board's decision or the city's allegations of problems at the club. But a card room will attract a different clientele than the dance club.It's a good decision for the city of Federal Way, he said. It probably will mean fewer customers on any given night. The place won't be as crowded. People who are interested in the gambling aspect tend to drink less than people there for a music and dance format, he said. They tend to drink more responsibly. It tends to be an older crowd. -------------------------Liquor hearingPeople who wish to comment on whether Cafe Arizona should receive a one-year renewal of its liquor license can write or phone in their comments to Judge Alice Haenle. Write to P.O. Box 42489, Olympia, WA 98504, or call (360) 753-6261 before the hearing's end in mid-September. People who want to speak at the hearing should call ahead of time to schedule a time. The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 16-18, Aug. 28-31, Sept. 6-8 and Sept. 11-15 in Room 103 at the Federal Way branch of Highline Community College. "

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