Clovis' 500 Club Casino move, expansion OK'd

September 6, 2011 

The 500 Club Casino in Clovis won final City Council approval Tuesday to move from its downtown building to a Shaw Avenue shopping center and triple the number of card tables.

The vote was 4-1, with Council Member Bob Whalen opposed. There was no public opposition during Tuesday night's meeting.

The new card room will expand from six tables at its existing site at Clovis Avenue and Fifth Street to 18 tables in a shopping center on the northeast corner of Shaw and Willow avenues. There also will be a restaurant in the new 13,000-square-foot site.

The new location will add more than 150 jobs, said Louis Sarantos, owner of the 500 Club.

A restaurant will remain open at the old site, which opened in 1953.

Under state law and city ordinances, Clovis can have up to 18 tables citywide, said John Holt, assistant city manager.

The 500 Club is the city's only gambling establishment and state law prohibits additional card rooms, Holt said.

Whalen said he opposed expanding gambling in the city. He said the 500 Club plan would be a significant change from "a fun novelty" in Old Town to an expanded card room near a highway.

The rest of the council supported the plan.

The free market should decide whether the expanded casino survives, Council Member Nathan Magsig said.

Said Mayor Jose Flores: "We can't legislate morality."

Holt said the city has flexibility to approve the kinds of games in the casino and change its license fee to increase the revenue it receives under its agreement with the 500 Club.

The city's license fee will rise from 3% to 9% over the first seven years of the new club's operation. The city also will charge a $2,000 table fee that will provide $36,000 yearly when the card room expands to 18 tables.

The city now receives up to $20,000 annually from the casino. If the new club's revenue reaches $3.35 million by the seventh year of operation, the city could collect $157,000 in fees, according to a city staff report.

Clovis city officials say they have had a good working relationship with the 500 Club's owners.

Clovis police have a history of "very good cooperation" with owners of the 500 Club, Capt. Vince Leonardo said.

The Sarantos family began renting the 500 Club building, at 500 Clovis Ave., in 1953. In 1974, Louis and George Sarantos bought the club from their parents and formed the partnership.

The new casino is expected to open in spring 2012, said John Cardot, a Fresno lawyer representing the 500 Club.

The reporter can be reached at mbenjamin@fresnobee.com of (559) 441-6166.

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