Woodland’s Oak Tree ready to deal in cardrooms

Restaurant completes remodel, awaits state license




The Oak Tree Restaurant in Woodland has completed remodeling on a new cardroom and bar, in anticipation of the state granting the business a gambling license, restaurant officials said.

Christopher Paasch, the CEO of Oak Tree Enterprises, said Thursday he believed the cardroom could open as soon as Dec. 15, noting state inspectors had visited the site Thursday. Oak Tree Enterprises hopes to open a second cardroom in spring 2012, he added.

Should the state approve Oak Tree’s license request, Woodland, which straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties, would join La Center as the area’s only cardroom destinations.

Proponents say cardrooms could be a much-needed source of tax revenue and provide new jobs for struggling city residents. But opponents say cardrooms could also lead to increases in gambling addiction and plunge poor families deeper into a financial hole.

Woodland city officials are expected to decide this month whether to extend interim zoning regulations for gambling enterprises or let them expire, which could open the door for cardrooms in various areas across the city.

There is talk around town that more cardrooms could soon follow the Oak Tree’s lead. No other business permits or gambling licenses have been sought, city officials said.

State gambling officials have not provided Woodland word yet on when they might act on Oak Tree Restaurant’s request, said Mari Ripp, city clerk.

Oak Tree officials are taking proactive steps to open as soon as the state gives them the green light, Paasch said.

The restaurant now has a renovated 2,000-square-foot bar that will have live music five nights a week. The bar, known as the River Lounge, is open and live music will follow shortly.

The cardroom, which will be called Oak Tree Casino, will be spacious and upscale, making it unique from other area cardrooms, Paasch said. It will also have around-the-clock security. Chuck McCormick, who has 30 years experience at casinos in Las Vegas and Ocean’s Eleven in San Diego, will manage Oak Tree Casino.

Oak Tree Enterprises expects to employ up to 250 people once the second cardroom is opened at the old Parr Lumber site behind Oak Tree Restaurant, Paasch said. The cardrooms expect to pay the city

$800 per day, or $292,000 per year, in taxes, which will help the city’s budget, he noted.

“We’re going to bring fresh faces to the community,” Paasch said, noting that “sit-and-go” tournaments would aid area hotels, restaurants and shops.

Cardrooms “could be a potentially positive addition to the city,” Woodland Mayor Pro-Tem Marilee McCall said, but city officials have some concerns about state zoning restrictions with regard to the businesses.

Woodland has interim zoning in its highway commercial zoning district. The restaurant, at 1020 Atlantic Ave., falls in this area. Should the city council let the interim zoning expire, it would essentially allow cardrooms to open anywhere where eating and drinking establishments are located, said Carolyn Johnson, Woodland’s community development planner.

The city council can also extend the interim zoning for an undetermined period of time.

Concern for families

Not everyone is jazzed about the potential for cardrooms in Woodland.

Councilman Marshall Allen is opposed to the cardrooms, due to the damage he has seen gambling addictions do to families. He started collecting signatures months ago in hopes of bringing the legality of the establishment before a citywide vote.

However, Allen did not reach his target of 520 signatures before December, and has since temporarily suspended the effort. He said recently that he would seek the signatures in May, when the weather warms up.

Allen rejects suggestions that cardrooms’ potential to raise money for the city’s public safety entities makes them a winning proposition.

“I personally don’t think the $200,000 the city would make off that would justify the amount of money taken away from families because the husband or wife got addicted to poker,” Allen said.

Paasch disagreed.

“Card players are going to play cards whether it’s here, La Center or Las Vegas,” the executive said.

Allen and other city leaders said they heard rumors about other restaurants in town besides the Oak Tree Restaurant seeking gambling licenses.

A developer has produced conceptual drawings of a plan that would bring two cardrooms, a mini-mart and a truck stop to Woodland, city councilman Benjamin Fredricks said.

“What they want to do is sit down and see if it would be allowed in the (current) zones,” said Jo Ann Heinrichs, Woodland’s permit clerk, of the unnamed developer. “It’s just in the tire-kicking stage.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com