City Council to decide future of Kenmore's only cardroom

After an emotional six-year debate, Kenmore faces a deadline next week on what to do about the city's only cardroom.

A moratorium that allows the 11th Frame Restaurant and Lounge on Bothell Way to remain open but bans new cardrooms expires Thursday, leaving the City Council facing a big decision. It must either outlaw all cardroom gambling in Kenmore or allow applications for new establishments, as King County Superior Court Judge Terry Lukens ruled in December 2004.

The council will meet Monday to discuss the matter, three days before the moratorium ends. If it takes no action, any business that serves food and drink may apply to open a cardroom. It also could vote to ban cardrooms citywide.

Mayor Steven Colwell, who supported a failed proposition to ban cardrooms in September, said his stance on gambling has not changed.

"Is that how you want to build a base for the city — on other people's losses?" he said. "That's not a good position to be in."

The 11th Frame is the city's largest taxpayer next to property and utility taxes. It will contribute just under $1 million in taxes this year, as projected after a 4 percent increase instituted in December.

Kenmore Lanes, the bowling facility that houses the cardroom, is a popular recreation center and the city's second-largest employer.

Frank Evans, owner of the 11th Frame and Kenmore Lanes, said he won't bring in enough revenue to keep the 50-lane bowling alley running if his cardroom goes. The result, he said, is the loss of more than 180 jobs and a city landmark.

"I just hope that the city is willing to satisfy their needs of nonexpansion, but let me stay in existence. If not, I'm out of business by the end of the year, and obviously that's devastating," Evans said.

A citizen advisory vote in September echoed Evans' concerns; Kenmore residents narrowly defeated a proposition to ban gambling.

But other efforts to save the cardroom haven't fared as well. Over the past two years, Evans and some council members have lobbied state legislators to transfer zoning control over gambling establishments from the state gambling commission to city governments. Such a change would allow Kenmore to make its moratorium permanent, keeping the 11th Frame and its tax revenue but not allowing gambling to expand.

Although the idea had some support in Olympia, no bills reached the governor's desk.

Zoning authority also could protect Kenmore from costly lawsuits.

In October 2003, Len Griesel sued the city after the council enacted a compromise ordinance that banned new cardrooms and appeased anti-gambling residents, yet grandfathered the 11th Frame.

The council then repealed the ordinance, but retained the moratorium, still preventing Griesel from opening a cardroom in his Kenmore Square Mall next door to Kenmore Lanes.

Hope for Griesel and other cardroom applicants came in December when Lukens overturned the gambling moratorium. He gave the council until the end of June to either deny Evans and Griesel their cardrooms, or open the market to new applicants.

This all-or-nothing approach has some council members feeling trapped.

"The complicating factor is that a court has said that we must make a decision now before we can go back to the Legislature," said Councilwoman Marcia Schwendiman. "To me, this was a search that continued until we ran out of options, and now we've run out of options."

Councilman Jack Crawford was more straightforward.

"I've spent six years trying to get rid of this cardroom," he said. "Now, the law says we can ban cardrooms and that's what I'll do as long as I'm on the council."

Lara Bain: 206-464-2112

Gambling in Kenmore

A timeline of events:

1999: Kenmore puts a moratorium on applications to open cardrooms.

March 2003: City Council bans new cardrooms but grandfathers the only existing one, the 11th Frame Restaurant and Lounge, allowing it to stay in business.

October 2003: Cardroom applicant Len Griesel sues the city, saying it's illegal to ban new cardrooms while allowing another to operate.

November 2003: City Council removes the law banning new cardrooms, but retains the moratorium.

September 2004: Kenmore residents narrowly defeat a gambling prohibition in an advisory vote.

December 2004: King County Superior Court Judge Terry Lukens overturns the moratorium and gives the council until the end of June 2005 to allow or ban all gambling.

June 23, 2005: The moratorium that bans new cardrooms expires.