San Jose casinos can reopen outdoors, lawmakers decide
Bay 101 sued San Jose over fees. File photo.

Casinos can now join the ranks of local businesses allowed to operate outdoors and have the potential to restore sorely-needed tax revenue to a struggling San Jose budget.

San Jose’s two card rooms, Bay 101 and Casino M8trix, will now follow suit of other open California casinos by entertaining guests outside. The setup would give casinos room to space out customers under giant tents and minimize the risk of COVID-19.

The plan to reopen casinos outside passed on a 10-1 vote on Sept. 1, with Councilmember Maya Esparza casting the lone dissenting vote.

Robert Lindo, vice president of Casino M8trix, said the casino is eager to open in a safe, outdoor environment after being closed for nearly six months.

“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,” Lindo said.

Before COVID-19, San Jose’s card room taxes were expected to bring in $18.9 million, but that number dropped to $13.5 million after the casinos closed following shelter-in-place orders.

“The more months they go out of service, the less (tax revenue) we will be able to generate,” Councilmember Raul Peralez said.

The CDC recommends casinos discourage eating at tables and keep players six feet apart. It also encourages businesses to install sneeze guards between players and at cash registers between customers and staff.

“There would be a reduction of the indoor gaming with social distancing and all the necessary COVID-19 requirements,” Bay 101 Vice President Ron Werner said. “Frankly, we don’t know what it will look like until we see how patrons respond.”

Werner said there will likely be restrictions on the number of players, glass shields between players and dealers, cleaning requirements and face mask requirements.

The move comes as San Jose looks to increase taxes on card rooms. The City Council last month approved drafting a ballot measure to increase gaming taxes from 15% to 16.5% and increasing the number of tables by 15 at each casino.

Councilmember Johnny Khamis said casinos would need to work with the police department to make sure proper regulations and security checks are in place before reopening outdoors.

“The card rooms have to spend a lot of money creating a system of cameras and checks and balances outside,” Khamis said. “But if they’re willing to spend all that money to do so, then they should be open.”

The county’s health order allows for businesses such as restaurants, hair salons and fitness studios to operate outdoors. Card rooms were not included in that list, until now.

As part of San Jose Al Fresco, the city’s outdoor business initiative, lawmakers earlier this month waived fees for the use of outdoor public spaces, making it easier for businesses to open during the pandemic.

“I just want to treat these businesses fairly,” Khamis told San José Spotlight. “They provide a lot of revenue for our city — revenue that we will need for the future because a lot of the other revenues are not coming in either.”

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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