April 3, 2023 — Clovis City Council
Documented by Kendra Staub
What happened: At their April 3 meeting, the Clovis City Council discussed a request from the 500 Club on Shaw Avenue to call a special election on Nov. 7 so that voters could consider an increase in the number of allowed gaming tables from 20 to 51.
But an Assembly Bill introduced last month that is now pending in the Senate has thrown a wrench in the casino’s plans by reinstating a moratorium on card room expansions with a look-back provision that would invalidate the increase even if approved by voters.
“That would basically retroactively cancel any expansion the city did in this window and looking at the legality of it, it would cause further question of spending all this money on this election and then, should it pass, having the possibility of having it being retroactively taken away,” said Jarhett Blonien, a Sacramento attorney representing the 500 Club.
Ultimately, the council showed support for the expansion and left it up to the casino to decide if they’d like to proceed with a special election vote.
“I think that if 500 Club wants to proceed and is willing to pay for it, then it seems like we’re all thinking that’s an OK thing, except for Vong who wants 150 more tables,” Mayor Lynn Ashbeck said.
City Manager John Holt said the cost of the election is estimated to be $350,000 based on the last stand-alone election versus about $75,000 during a regular election when the cost is shared. He said that the city attorney has advised him that there is a way they could use to charge the applicant for the election.
“I’m guessing that the applicant might ask for the city to fund it, staff would be recommending that we don’t fund it even though it is a significant revenue source for the city,” Holt said. “It’d be difficult for me to recommend spending $350,000 on an election where we’re not sure what the results would be.”
Holt said the current location will not accommodate up to 51 tables, but they would consider moving to a larger location in the future.
Despite having received campaign contributions from entities related to the 500 Club, Council Member Matt Basgall did not recuse himself from this discussion and asked the casino’s attorney for clarification on the law, which he said allows them to expand by two tables every four years for a total of 10 tables over 16 years.
Council Member Vong Mouanoutoua said he thinks they should expand gaming operations as much as possible. “Why not be the best in the Central Valley,” he said. “If people are going to play cards, why don’t they come here.”
To which, Mayor Ashbeck said, “Leave it to Vong, free enterprise at its best.”
“When did ex post facto law become passé?” Council Member Drew Bessinger said. “This is the second or third thing that’s come up that is retroactive and my thought is that it’s just not constitutional.”
Bessinger did express concerns that the police department is not ready for card room expansions because it requires staff to do additional background checks and provide oversight.
And also: The council gave direction for staff to hire a consultant to explore the city’s options to increase tax revenue for police, fire, streets, and parks.
The council members voiced support for a special tax in March 2023, but a consultant will be hired to provide recommendations and more information to the council.
Up next: The Clovis City Council will meet again on April 10.