La Center cardroom closes

Chips Casino shutters doors after 16 years

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

Updated: January 20, 2014, 7:35 PM

 

One of La Center’s cardrooms closed its doors Monday and will not reopen.

Revenue had been flat for a while at Chips Casino, according to John Bockmier, a spokesman for the city’s cardrooms.

However, “General operating costs have increased every year,” he said.

It was a trend expected to continue in 2014, so the cardroom’s owner, Lakewood-based Michel’s Development, decided to cut its losses and shutter the 16-year-old casino.

The decision came less than three weeks after a 13-cents-per-hour increase to the state’s minimum wage took effect, which Bockmier cited as one reason for the closure. Most of the cardroom’s employees were paid the state’s minimum wage, Bockmier said, meaning operating costs had recently increased.

“There is a tremendous number of people in this industry who are in tipped positions,” he said. “So from an employer’s standpoint, you still have to increase the wage every year, and there’s no relief for that.”

On top of that, employee health care costs are going up this year, Bockmier said. So too are the city’s sewer service fees.

Bockmier said the cardroom’s closure came as a surprise, and he first learned of it Monday. It’s unclear how many employees were laid off or what the future is for the building that housed the cardroom.

Casino management company Michel’s Development intends to keep its other La Center-based cardroom, the Palace Casino, open. The two cardrooms, located on Pacific Highway, share a parking lot and employees.

Recently, the ability for ownership groups to successfully operate local cardrooms hasn’t been a safe bet.

In 2012, the Oak Tree Casino in Woodland opened and, in less than a year, closed. It reopened under different ownership this year.

There are also concerns about the future.

La Center’s cardrooms continue to oppose a proposed Cowlitz tribal casino from taking shape near La Center, which they say would signal the death knell for their businesses. The future of that project, described as a mega-casino resort, remains locked up in the federal court system.