Controversy still swirls around casino

Business is "pretty good" at the Caribbean Casino in the Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association's bingo hall in Kingsgate, according to Michael Marquess, a principle partner in the gaming venture. That's despite the new smoking ban and a denial of a liquor license to the business, he said.

But fallout, including an alleged death threat against the Sno-King president, has continued since the casino opened Nov. 19. And lurking in the background is the possibility that Kingsgate could be annexed in the next few years to Kirkland, a move that would put the casino out of business because Kirkland doesn't allow gambling.

You let one casino operation in, and others will soon follow, said Kirkland Mayor Mary-Alyce Burleigh. "It's not how we in Kirkland perceive our city," she said of losing its gambling-free status. "We would like to have a more family-friendly business base."

Besides, the mayor added, other Puget Sound-area cities with casinos have associated problems such as gambling addiction and drunk driving, the latter of which she believes will become an issue in Kingsgate if the Caribbean finally succeeds in getting a liquor license.

The casino's location is also problematic, Burleigh said, because it's in a small neighborhood shopping center in the middle of a residential community where roads now serve just rural traffic. "It's just not a good location, regardless of how you feel about gambling."

She also noted that opening a casino in Kingsgate was opposed by thousands of local residents who signed petitions, the superintendents of the North Shore and Lake Washington school districts, members of the King County Council and King County Executive Ron Sims.

Opposed to granting a gambling license to the casino were also 45th District State Senator Bill Finkbeiner and 45th District State representatives Toby Nixon and Larry Springer, a former Kirkland City Council member.

In a letter to the gambling commission, they based their objections on a number of factors. Among them was advertising that would draw customers from a 500-square-mile area, customers who would have to drive on neighborhood streets to get to the casino.

The legislators also complained that glare from the casino's neon sign would shine into adjacent homes 24 hours a day, something that would affect the livability of the community.

That objection involves a double standard, according to Marquess. "No one complains about the neon glare from McDonalds, and their neon is on all the time, too," he said. Plus, Marquess added, the McDonalds' sign is taller than the casino's.

He also pooh-poohed concerns about traffic. The street right in front of casino sees 9,000 vehicle trips a day, which is the equivalent to the entire population of Woodinville, he said. "For us to add a few hundred trips a day, I just don't see that as significant."

Marquess said the casino signed a 25-year lease with Sno-King, which will receive $20,000 a month for the first five years and $24,000 a month after that, along with regular rent increases as the years pass. He estimated that Sno-King stands to make an estimated $6 million from the casino during the course of the lease.

That's a significant amount of money for an organization he said doesn't get the same kind of tax support that soccer and softball organizations do. Marquess also finds it odd that nobody in Kingsgate or Kirkland has objected to Sno-King selling pull tabs and having bingo games three days a week to make money.

But Sno-King's gambling revenues have been declining for years, and they asked the casino for help, he said. "They really have no other choice."

Marquess thinks the threat of annexation is a red herring. "They have been talking about annexation since the late 1970s," he said, adding that the issue was dead until the casino venture was started.

That's not true, according to the Kirkland Web site, which says a specific timeline for annexation has not been established, but the city has agreed to pursue annexation "within the next few years."

Problem is, according to a 2005 analysis, Kirkland would have to make up a $4.78 million deficit if Finn Hill, Juanita and Kingsgate were annexed at the same time. So that seems unlikely, according to Mayor Burleigh.

But she brought up another possibility: annexing one area at a time. And Kingsgate would be first for a lot of reasons, Burleigh said. Among them, the area has the best existing infrastructure of the three, she said with no mention of the casino.

Marquess thinks the casino could generate around $1 million a year in tax revenue once the owners get a liquor license, something he said they will pursue to the state Supreme Court if necessary.

"We're not going to quit; they're not going to starve us out," Marquess vowed. But if Kingsgate is annexed, there is also the issue of compensating the casino for loss of business, he said of a tab that could reach several million dollars. "Do Kirkland taxpayers deserve that?" he asked.

No one from Sno-King returned a call for comment, but Rep. Nixon e-mailed association president Steve Cole about an inflammatory e-mail he received from someone who signed off as "The Greensmiths."

The gist of the e-mail was that Nixon and other politicians were against youth hockey because they opposed the casino. Nixon noted he'd checked phone directories, voter-registration cards, property records and other sources in an effort to find a way to contact The Greensmiths. But he had no luck and e-mailed Cole instead.

Cole's e-mail reply on Dec. 24 stressed that the writer of The Greensmiths e-mail "doesn't represent Sno-King or its views in any manor." Cole wrote that he hoped Nixon understood. "He's no different than the person from your group, that early on called my house and left a death threat on my answering machine," Cole added in the e-mail.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or (206) 461-1309.

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