'Winning hand' for San Jose card rooms as city allows casinos to operate outdoors

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Card rooms in San Jose are dealt a "winning hand" after city council voted to give businesses the green light to bring operations outdoors, into their private parking lots.

Council voted on Tuesday night. The move is the the latest expansion in the city's "Al Fresco" initiative, which is meant to move business operations outside during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Councilwoman Maya Esparza was the only council member to vote against allowing the card rooms to operate outside. ABC7 News reached out to her office on Wednesday, but was told Esparza was unavailable for comment.

Tuesday's decision would impact both Casino M8trix and Bay 101 card rooms in San Jose.

Casino M8trix Vice President Robert Lindo said now the focus is on setting up a fraction of gaming tables under an 8,000-square-foot-tent by week's end.

"And then to schedule inspections with regulators so that they can sign off," Lindo explained. "To make sure that all our safety procedures - our cleaning, our sanitization, and our regulatory compliance for cameras, and security and surveillance - are all in check."

Guidelines set by the state include general disinfecting, social distancing, mandatory face masks and more.

"All players will be required to wear masks. There will be no food service at the tables," Lindo added. "So in between all of those protections, we believe those are going to be the primary things that our players and our employees should expect when they return."

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Expect a different experience at casinos because of COVID-19. While Cache Creek isn't open just yet, gamblers should prepare for changes. Slot machines will be spaced out and some table games will have less players or be eliminated.



According to the California Public Health Department's COVID-19 General Checklist for Cardrooms, Satellite Wagering Facilities and Racetracks published in early-July, card rooms must also:

  • Provide time between dealer rotations to allow for thorough hand-washing.
  • For card games where players touch the cards, upon dealer rotation, discard cards in play, sanitize them, or keep them out of rotation for at least 7 days. For card games where players do not touch the cards, after at least 8 hours, discard, disinfect, sanitize, or take cards out of rotation for at least 7 days. The dealer must use hand sanitizer prior to beginning play at each card table and immediately at the conclusion of the table rotation.
  • Replace chips with clean chips upon every dealer rotation, and wash and disinfect used chips.


While these are additional steps, it's a small price to pay since business was shuttered back in March.

Councilman Raul Peralez was behind the push to bring both card rooms outdoors.

According to Peralez, Casino M8trix and Bay 101 were on track to generate nearly $19-million in tax revenue, but took a hit to $13.5-million after being forced to close.

"The more months they go out of service, the less that we're going to be able to generate," he said during Tuesday's council meeting.

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Lindo with Casino M8trix said he hopes to open by the end of next week, with 28 of their 49 tables, and 300 of their 700 employees.

"The card rooms together are two of the largest taxpayers in the city of San Jose," Lindo said. "Our gaming revenue's taxed 15-percent. And we do contribute, depending on the year obviously, $17 to $18-million in tax revenue. As we've been closed since March, we've earned no revenue. So if we remain closed for six months, obviously the city is expected to take a hit of about half that amount."

While he admits summertime is one of the slower seasons for card rooms, the rush to welcome back patrons started months ago.

"We've been trying to get ahead of the curve a little bit. So when the trend started to go outside- because we realized that the numbers were indicating that indoor reopenings would remain unsafe- we started dealing with an events company right away," he told ABC7 News.

Lindo has also been following progression of the nearby firefights happening simultaneously around the Bay Area.

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San Jose is waiving fees and expediting the permit process for businesses to use other outdoor spaces during the pandemic.



He said, "We obviously do have plans for the employee and patient safety in terms of air quality and heat injuries. That's something we're looking at and something we're preparing for, but hopefully the worst of both of those times have passed."

"Our number one focus is going to be on the safety of our patrons and our staff," Lindo told ABC7 News. "We've spent the last nearly six months waiting for the time that we could reopen safely. So anyone who wants to come down and see what we have to offer, I think they're going to feel very confident that we have their best interests in mind and that we have left no stone unturned when it comes to providing a fun and safe gaming experience."

When ABC7 News asked for a tentative reopening date, Lindo said, "Because we are such a highly regulated business and because we are in the gaming world, I don't like to speculate or make any bets on that kind of stuff."

Before operating outdoors, both Casino M8trix and Bay 101 are required to gain written approval from city administrators.

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