Washington's Gambling Commission Shuts Down Card Games at Senior Center, Citing Local Ban


KING 5 News

In two weeks the Snohomish, Washington, city council will consider whether retirees should be allowed to continue playing penny-ante card games—poker, bridge, and pinochle—at the local senior center. The games have been a favorite activity at the Snohomish Senior Center for 25 years. But five years ago, alarmed at the prospect of for-profit card rooms, the city council passed an ordinance that bans games played for money when any "organization, corporation, or person collects or obtains or charges any percentage of or collects or obtains any portion of the money or thing of value wagered or won by any of the players." That made the games at the senior center illegal, since each participant pays a "donation." No one noticed that the center had become a den of crime until someone ratted out the card players to the Washington State Gambling Commission, which in December ordered them to cease and desist. In response to the outrage provoked by that command, the city council last month approved a measure that allows nonprofit organizations to sponsor money card games until April 30. Now it has to decide what happens after then.

"We've got a big criminal record," card player Peter Richard tells KING, the NBC affiliate in Seattle. "18 years of playing for dimes!" He adds, regarding the gambling commission's order, "I thought they were off their nut!" Another player, Bill Huested, piles on: "If you gave them an IQ test, the needle wouldn't move."

KING reports that the the inadvertent civil disobedience at the senior center may promote a tolerance of recreational activities that extends beyond pinochle-playing pensioners:

The city council is now trying to fix the ordinance—which could end up reopening the door to for-profit card rooms in Snohomish—the very thing the council was trying to stop 5 years ago. But the council has since shuffled. Councilman Tom Hamilton says there may now be enough votes to allow card rooms to open in the city. He believes it's an option that should be considered.

"If you allow pulltabs, you're hypocritical not to allow social card games," said Hamilton.

[Thanks to Robert Woolley for the tip.]