The conglomerate Stop the Mega Casino has emerged as a vocal opponent, spending tens of thousands of dollars on a blitz of multi-page mailers, signs, a 30-second television ad and telephone polls. Nearly 4,300 Richmond residents have filled out reply cards attached to the mailers or signed an opposition sheet, the group said, and some are marching into City Council meetings as the election season shifts into high gear.
Their goal is simple: show city leaders and federal authorities that the local support they want doesn't exist and ultimately kill the casino.
"Yes, we are an association of card clubs. But the arguments against the casino are very credible and they are resonating with the community," said Chuck Finnie, a consultant working with a campaign strategy firm hired by Stop the Mega Casino.
Developer Upstream and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians are seeking federal, state and local approvals for a $1.2 billion resort at the old Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot that would include a casino with up to 4,000 slot machines subject to a state gaming compact, 1,100 hotel rooms, a conference center, restaurants, shops, tribal headquarters, open space and ferry service. Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which operates Cache Creek Casino in Yolo County, is financing the venture.
Supporters say Richmond needs the jobs and revenue. Opponents argue the casino would become an economic and social drain without all the promised benefits.
The City Council last week extended the closing date on its land disposition agreement with Upstream, giving the parties until April 2011 to sort out design, financing and other issues.
Stop the Mega Casino has spent $33,900 to defeat the casino project, according to the most recent expenditure report filed with the City Clerk's Office. The next quarterly report for April 1 to June 30 is due July 15. The campaign is funded by 14 card clubs in the Bay Area and beyond that fear competition from Las Vegas-style casinos.
The coalition has produced three mailers -- the most recent arrived in mailboxes last week -- claiming developers are offering empty promises of jobs and that the project will make crime and poverty permanent in Richmond. The first mailer, in early March, offended some with its depiction of a seedy Richmond, but a number of locals have begun sending in reply cards attached to subsequent mailers.
Jim Levine of Upstream said the card club group's claims on crime, jobs and other matters are wrong. His project will bring jobs to Richmond, he said, but the card clubs aren't offering the same to benefit the community.
"Anybody who knows anything about a billion-dollar resort knows that there are thousands of jobs associated with it," Levine said. "They don't care about Richmond; they just care about their own pocketbooks."
Upstream has started countering the claims with its own mailers and ads.
"One by one, we're going to address their unfounded claims and provide the facts," Levine said.
Except for Napa Valley Casino in American Canyon, the card clubs backing Stop the Mega Casino declined through campaign strategist Barnes, Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners to be identified or interviewed.
The 2,400-square-foot, 12-table Napa Valley Casino is one of the smaller card clubs in the state. Co-owner Brian Altizer worries that a casino with thousands of slot machines in Richmond would hurt his club financially. Voters did not intend to authorize urban casinos when they approved Proposition 1A for tribal gaming in 2000, he said.
The major difference between card clubs and casinos are the games. Card rooms offer poker and other card games; tribal casinos can have card games and slot machines. Card clubs charge fees for people to play, but the "house" does not take the game winnings. In a casino, players compete against the house. Card clubs are licensed by the state, and follow state and city regulations. Tribal casinos navigate a federal and state approval process and are regulated to a degree through state compacts.
California's 89 card clubs with a combined 1,784 tables generated $889 million in 2008, according to the state Attorney General's Office. The Oaks in Emeryville, which has 40 tables, grosses about $22 million annually, based on Bay Area News Group's calculations using taxes the card room pays the city.
The 65 Indian gaming facilities in California brought in $7.3 billion in 2008, according to the Indian Gaming Industry Report by Alan Meister, an economist with Nathan Associates Inc. The casinos represent 67,672 gaming machines and 2,132 table games.
A slot machine generates $100,000 to $150,000 a year, industry experts say. The number of machines ranges per casino. Cache Creek Casino, for example, has more than 2,400 machines.
A casino wouldn't give Richmond what it needs, Altizer said.
"I absolutely agree that Richmond needs jobs. Point Molate can be developed in other ways that could provide sustainable jobs that don't cannibalize the city." Altizer said. "I don't feel what I'm saying is hypocritical. It's such a different business."
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.
Ting Daraseng deals poker at Napa Valley Casino in American Canyon, one of 14 gaming facilities fighting plans for a Richmond hotel-casino.