Woodland restaurant seeks cardroom permit

Issue has had a polarizing effect in city, with one council candidate petitioning to have them banned

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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A Woodland restaurant has requested a permit to open cardrooms in the city, officials said.

The Oak Tree Restaurant’s decision to seek a permit comes at a time when the city is weighing potential zoning regulations for such gambling enterprises and a city council candidate is petitioning to have them banned.

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

Should Oak Tree’s permit go through, Woodland, which straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties, would join La Center as the area’s only cardroom destinations.

The state gambling commission must approve the Oak Tree’s request. There is no current timeline for that to happen, councilwoman Marilee McCall said, noting Oak Tree representatives previously stated their goal was to open the cardrooms before the end of this year.

Oak Tree Restaurant officials did not return phone calls for this story.

Woodland community development planner Carolyn Johnson will provide city council members with zoning information during Monday night’s meeting. The council will neither address the information provided nor is a public hearing scheduled, she said.

Woodland has interim zoning in its highway commercial zoning district. The restaurant, at 1020 Atlantic Ave., falls in this area. The council will decide on zoning for cardrooms at a later meeting.

The existence of cardrooms in Woodland, regardless of where they are, is a source of heated debate.

Council members said they were executing the intention of Washington state law. Council candidate Marshall Allen questioned though whether they were carrying out the will of the people.

Allen is determined to bring the legality of the cardrooms to a citywide vote. To do so, he needs the signatures of 50 percent of the people who voted in the last general election. He has around 200 of the 520 signatures he needs, he said. He has until December to collect the remaining signatures.

His chief concern with the cardrooms is how they will affect families, particularly children.

“This city is going to make a lot of money off cardrooms, but it will pay a big price for it,” Allen said.

Government should base its decisions on law rather than morals, council members said. Washington state law allows for cardrooms.

“If it’s a legal activity, it’s not our job to say we don’t want it,” McCall said. She estimated the feedback she received about the cardrooms had been about 50 percent for and 50 percent against.

People who support the cardrooms are seeking another entertainment venue. Woodland’s cardrooms would attract people from across Cowlitz County, including residents of Kalama, Longview and Kelso, McCall noted.

Specific estimates on the cardrooms’ financial impact to Woodland have not been determined yet. But it’s clear they would provide a benefit, councilman Benjamin Fredricks said.

“A lot of people are hurting in the city of Woodland,” Fredricks said. “This creates opportunities for people. It helps with the budget crisis the city is facing.”

The cardrooms’ tax revenues would provide a major boost to the city’s public safety services, Fredricks added.

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