Kent Council committee keeps Panther Lake casino in the chips

A Kent City Council committee voted 3-0 Tuesday to recommend adoption by the full Council of a revised gambling ordinance to allow the Great American Casino to remain open when the city annexes the business and the rest of the Panther Lake area on July 1.

The ordinance goes to the seven-member City Council for final approval on April 6. Without approval of the revised ordinance, the casino would have to shut down its 14-table card games.

Kent currently bans casinos. But the Operations Committee gave its nod to an ordinance that includes a grandfather clause allowing Great American Casino, 20500 108th Ave. S.E., to continue operations, without having to allow other casinos in the city. That ability came from a bill approved last year by the state Legislature for cities that annex casinos.

“We are in very tough economic times and we’re looking at a business with 120 employees,” Council President Jamie Perry said before she voted for the ordinance. “It would be a terrible time to put them out of business. It’s a great facility that has had no problems. There is no need to put them out of business.”

Councilwoman Debbie Raplee and Councilman Dennis Higgins, the other two committee members, also voted to approve the ordinance.

Shannon McClure, general manager for the Great American Casino, attended the committee meeting. McClure said several Council members as well as Police Chief Steve Strachan recently toured the casino to check out how it operates.

“This has been a 2 1/2-year challenge,” McClure said after the meeting, about the work she has put in to keep the casino in business after annexation. “To have this approved on an unanimous vote is fantastic.”

The 5,400-square-foot casino has operated in Panther Lake, in unincorporated King County, for about seven years. The casino, which is licensed by the state Gambling Commission, also includes a restaurant and bar.

“I understand not everyone likes gambling,” McClure said. “But we run a safe, clean business and now 120 workers can keep working.”

The city will receive about $500,000 per year in taxes from the casino, said John Hodgson, city chief administrative officer. The city will tax the casino at 11 percent of the gross revenue from the card games. That is the same tax rate currently charged against the casino by King County.

City Attorney Tom Brubaker explained to the Council committee before its vote that the revised ordinance with a grandfather clause only applies to the Great American Casino.

“This allows Great American Casino to operate in Panther Lake but does not allow other gambling establishments to come in,” Brubaker said.

Panther Lake residents voted in November to join the city of Kent. The city’s population will jump July 1 from about 88,380 to 112,380.

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