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Saturday, August 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Federal judge says lone cardroom has to go

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

A federal judge has ruled that Kenmore's only cardroom has to go.

An order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the cardroom against the city seeking to overturn a 2005 ordinance that banned the gambling operation.

State law clearly allows counties and cities to make their own decisions about whether to license gambling activities, Pechman said in the ruling.

The lawsuit was brought by Star Northwest Inc., which does business as Kenmore Lanes and the 11th Frame Casino.

The ruling marks a significant victory for the city, which inherited the cardroom when it incorporated in 1998. The cardroom and the Kenmore Lanes bowling alley where it operates formerly were part of unincorporated King County.

Controversies almost immediately began arising after incorporation. In 2003, the city passed an ordinance banning cardrooms. A major part of the disputes dealt with whether the Kenmore Lanes cardroom could be "grandfathered," and allowed to stay open if other cardrooms were banned.

A Superior Court judge ruled the city could not selectively allow some gambling places and not others, so it either had to ban gambling completely or allow other such businesses to open.

In December, the City Council voted to ban all social cardrooms. That led to the federal court lawsuit.

Pechman said gambling isn't a "vested right," and that Kenmore officials are within their authority "to exercise their police power by terminating the gaming use immediately."

Pechman faulted the plaintiffs for not first filing their claims in state court. She asked why the case was in federal court at all, since gambling has been ruled to be a "vice activity" that has no federal constitutional protection.

Star Northwest has not decided whether to appeal the decision. The city has said the bowling alley and restaurant can remain open, but the owner has said they can't stay in business without the cardroom income.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com

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