Cafe Arizona becomes a minicasino
June 13, 2008 · Updated 10:05 AM
"Café Arizona began operating as a minicasino a few hours after receiving its gambling license from the Washington State Gambling Commission this week.While excited about the Oct. 12 approval, General Manager John Chong sounds exhausted as he talks about the former dance club's transformation into the city's fourth minicasino. The others are PJ Pockets Casino, Players Casino and New Sonny's Casino.For now, Café Arizona, 2012 S. 320th St., will operate 10 card tables. Customers may place maximum bets of $25 per hand. Initially, the club will be open from 4 p.m. until noon the next day. Ultimately, Chong hopes the minicasino is open 24 hours a day. The change includes expanding the club's restaurant and doubling the number of employees to about 100. A grand opening for the restaurant, which will feature an international buffet from 4 to 10 p.m., is set for Oct. 27. It's a lot of work, Chong said. We could not have done it without our employees. We had believers and non-believers, even in the employees. Now they've seen it, they feel like they're motivated, everybody is excited. They've put forth so much effort for us. I'm surprised by how much support.That support hasn't come from all quarters.The five-member Gambling Commission approved Café Arizona's application over the objections of city officials. In a five-page letter to the commission dated Sept. 13, City Manager David Moseley expressed his concerns.City officials' worries about crime committed by people believed to be club customers led the three-member Liquor Control Board to vote last year to not renew the club's annual liquor license. The club appealed and is operating with a temporary license. The end result would simply be more criminal activity, rather than less, Moseley wrote of a gambling license approval.Interim City Attorney Bob Sterbank has said the club's management seemed unwilling to cooperative with police in decreasing the driving under the influence and other offenses the city attributes to the club's customers. The track record out there is not very good, he said.No one from the city attended the Gambling Commission hearing. Susan Arland, the commission's rules coordinator, says the commissioners considered the Moseley's correspondence, but it didn't contain any information that would enable them to not approve the license.Unlike the Liquor Control Board, the Gambling Commission faces narrow guidelines on when it can reject an application, including in incidences of businesses with fraud problems. Gambling Commission staff reviewed Café Arizona's finances and found nothing in our laws or rules that they were amiss, Arland said.If someone qualifies for a gambling license, we must issue it, Arland said. There was nothing in the letters that would prevent us from issuing a license. Even if the Liquor Control Board upholds its decision to not renew the club's liquor license, the club could continue to operate as a minicasino as long as it possessed a food and beverage license, Arland said. The Liquor Control Board will issue a decision later this year.Chong has said the decision to operate as Café Arizona as a minicasino has nothing to do with the club's ongoing tensions with the city. When the club opened six years ago, it operated a non-banked card room, in which players pay an hourly fee to play against each other. The club had no stake in the game. Tribal casinos decreased the card room's profits, so the club switched to a dance club format. The club most recently played hip-hop music.With the recent switch to a minicasino, Café Arizona wants to provide customers with a total entertainment package, a place where they can play cards, enjoy good food, watch a game and have a drink, Chong said. The Gambling Commission's approval of the license, after conducting criminal and financial background checks, took a little of the sting off the negative attention the club has received recently, Chong said. We proved we're doing legitimate business despite what other people think, the rumors, he said.Plenty of new faces visited over the weekend to watch the Mariners game, have a meal or play cards, Chong said. He believes the customers left with what he considers a more accurate image of the club. It seems like a lot of people were surprised because they hear about us from the rumors, he said. They came in and see in in their own eyes. ... I had nothing but good compliments. We are happy about it. "