A new ownership group has reached an agreement to purchase the Oak Tree Casino Restaurant, the long-time Woodland eatery that closed in December after accruing nearly $70,000 in debt and failing to meet revenue projections following its transformation into a cardroom.
A group with ties to Portland, Lucky 21 Casino LLC, has signed a lease for the business, according to the group's spokesman, Wally Fitzwater.
Fitzwater, a Portland attorney, said the new owners would not purchase the restaurant business' previous ownership group, OT Enterprises, nor assume any of that company's debt. Those debts include $8,005 in back wages and $60,494 in delinquent state taxes. The latter resulted in the Washington State Department of Revenue issuing a tax warrant against the business in December.
"Obviously, we're going to try to do a better job than they did," Fitzwater said.
Lucky 21 Casino incorporated on Jan. 2, according to the Washington Secretary of State's Office. The new owners hope to reopen the Oak Tree in April, Fitzwater said, after renovating the restaurant's 48,000 square-foot interior.
Owners are also working with Clark Public Utilities to improve lighting in the restaurant's parking lot.
Backers of Lucky 21 Casino plan to reestablish gambling at the Oak Tree later in the spring, Fitzwater said.
They also hope to rehire former employees who were put out of work when the restaurant and cardroom abruptly closed. More than 100 employees were left jobless when the restaurant shut its doors on Christmas Eve.
Before reopening, the owners will first have to renew the Oak Tree's liquor and gaming licenses with the state, a process that should take a few months.
At the city level, there's tempered optimism about the landmark restaurant's reopening.
City Councilor J.J. Burke, who was wary of allowing gaming in Woodland a year ago when the cardroom opened, said he still believes city residents should be given the opportunity to vote on whether they want gambling establishments within city limits.
The Woodland City Council voted to allow gaming in the city and take a percentage of the revenue nearly three years ago.
Burke said the ordinance would allow the restaurant to reopen as a cardroom without seeking city approval for a second time.
"It's all over with," Burke said. "There's nothing we can do."
The city, which straddles Cowlitz and Clark counties, joined La Center as one of the area's two destinations for legal card game gambling when the City Council in 2010 passed an ordinance with a 5-2 vote. At the time, many Woodland officials believed cardrooms would generate substantial tax revenue for the city.
Last year, backers of OT Enterprises projected as much as $200,000 in tax revenue. The projection proved to be overinflated, as Woodland received slightly more than $60,000 in gambling tax revenue by year's end.
Fitzwater said Lucky 21 Casino did not have updated revenue projections for the Oak Tree.
The deal with Lucky 21 Casino is just for the business. The property continues to be owned by Beaverton, Ore.-based AK Development. AK Development owes more than $11,000 in back property taxes, according to Cowlitz County records. Fitzwater said he heard AK Development may be seeking a deal to sell the property. Attempts to contact AK Development were unsuccessful.