Opening a "card room" in downtown Provo may be as difficult as bringing the lottery to Utah, a local businessman learned Tuesday night.
The City Council denied an appeal by businessman Rob Joly to amend a zoning ordinance allowing a card room in the central business district.The council followed the recommendations of the city Planning Commission and denied the request, saying the proposed use would harm the image of downtown and runs counter to the city's revitalization efforts.
LeLand Gammette, community development director, said that if Joly conducts his business as outlined, it could be done legally. The commission rejected the request because of the proposed location.
Joly wanted to set up an entertainment business in a refurbished warehouse with traditional games of chance or skill patterned after the gambling houses and speak-easys of the 1920s.
Such games would include blackjack, wheel of fortune and roulette. When customers enter the establishment, they would pay a cover charge and receive tokens to use in games. The gambling aspect would be eliminated because the tokens would not be redeemable and there would be no chance of winning anything of monetary value.
In a community development memo, City Attorney Gary Gregerson said this type of business could lend itself to abuse by participants because it is not uncommon for people to make side wagers.
Gregerson said it is also possible that the card rooms could be violating Utah Code for possessing a gambling device. Violations could result if the business derives an economic benefit other than personal winnings from gambling, but it depends on how the business is organized and structured.
Mayor Joe Jenkins said, "In order to regulate gambling devices, you have to prove intent for gambling. That is a problem for us. It is almost impossible to regulate or have any control over."
Gregerson's memo says: "At the present time we have no reason not to assume that Mr. Joly has nothing but the purest motives and therefore allow the establishment of the business he proposed. I have advised him that should he proceed with his plan we will watch and monitor the operation very closely."
The city attorney said he has some misgivings as to what this kind of an operation could turn into, but that it does not violate any law.
Police Chief Swen Nielsen said he does not object to the card room as long as it is operated as explained by the owner. However, he was concerned about the proposed location next to a tavern.
The police chief said it is a concern because of the numerous calls police get responding to street fights, brawls and other types of illegal activity by tavern patrons.
The proposed game room could attract some of the same clientele, particularly if it is close to the tavern, he said.
If it is away from the tavern, Nielsen has no particular concerns because the potential for gambling is present anywhere in the city and it could be enforced.
"No games are played against another person," Joly said. "Games are played against the house. It's like playing pinball. I do not believe in gambling, but I do play games."