ANTIOCH -- After putting all its concerns on the table, the city agreed this week to deal in the new owner of a longtime downtown card room.
The City Council late Tuesday unanimously approved businessman Tony Keslinke's plans to run a 24-hour six-table card room at Kelly's Restaurant and Card Room, while setting some parameters for security and potential legal issues.
But don't head there to play poker just yet.
Kelly's, which closed last year after 34 years in business, will not be allowed to hold card games until the California Gambling Control Commission grants it temporary approval. The council gave Keslinke three years to get permanent approval following the gambling commission's action -- enough time for the state and other agencies to run background checks.
Much of Tuesday's discussion centered on safety and the possible strain the card room could put on a thinly stretched Police Department.
Police Chief Allan Cantando expressed some reluctance to Kelly's operating 24/7, but through talks with Keslinke, the two reached agreement.
Some security measures will include one armed guard on site at all times -- two if more than three tables are being used for games -- the use of metal detectors and an ID scanner to curb underage drinking and game play.
Keslinke must also be present at Kelly's at least once a week for five hours, for 45 out of 52 weeks of each year. Also, a key employee licensed by the state must always be at the establishment.
Keslinke's proposal was backed by a full house of community support. All 19 speakers Tuesday lauded Keslinke's work revitalizing dilapidated buildings downtown and said Kelly's would boost the area economy, creating 48 full- and part-time jobs.
"Tony's done more for economic development in the last 10 years (in Antioch) than anyone else I've seen," said Sean Wright, a chiropractor and the Antioch Chamber of Commerce CEO.
Ruthie Riley-Evans, owner of Scotto's Auto Body on O Street across from Kelly's, told the council the neighborhood has declined since it closed, and the vacant building has led to vagrants sleeping in the parking lot and doorways, as well as drug deals.
Resident Keith Pace said he is "the face of those people" that would frequent Kelly's.
"There are a lot of us who are BART workers, construction workers, barbers. We're not thugs. We're looking for a place to have a nice dinner and maybe play some cards," he said.
The lengthy approval process included an anonymous anti-Kelly's campaign before an August planning commission meeting. An opposition group that called itself "Protect Antioch" sent mailers and made phone calls, warning that the card room would increase crime, strain city police and fuel gambling addiction and loan sharking.
Yet, the overwhelming majority of speakers favored Kelly's. No appeal was filed to the decision, and the Protect Antioch website has not been updated.
Keslinke called it being "bullied through this process by out-of-town interests," noting some East Bay card room owners were in the crowd Tuesday.
The lone objection came in a letter from attorney Thomas Willis of law firm Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, saying Antioch should wait until the state makes its decision because it violates the law, and there were too many unanswered policing questions, which prompted the last-minute discussions between Keslinke and staff during the meeting.
Willis' letter does not identify whom he is representing.
The cocktail lounge portion of the 7,100-square-foot building would still be subject to state laws for selling alcohol and close at 2 a.m. The restaurant would remain open at all hours.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.