San Diego’s Last Card Room Closes For Good

San Diego’s once-booming card room scene is no more as the last surviving venue – Lucky Lady – has not long ago closed doors for good.

Local news outlets report that the club’s owner, businessman Stanley Penn, last month quietly sold it to the Family Health Centers of San Diego. Mr. Penn had run the operation on El Cajon Boulevard for the better part of the past four decades before it was shuttered to never again welcome avid card players.

The coronavirus pandemic that forced the card room and other non-essential businesses to remain shut for almost a year seems to have prompted the business’s permanent closure.

Lucky Lady was the last licensed and legally operating card games club in San Diego. The city once hosted more than a hundred of these venues, but a 1983 law passed by the City Council prohibited the sale, lease or transfer of card room licenses, essentially marking the beginning of the end of an era.

In other words, the measure meant that when holders of card room licenses retired or passed away or gave them up, their business would have to close. City officials said at the time that the law aimed to eliminate the deleterious effects that such establishments have on the safety, welfare, and morals of the city.”

A 1996 state law introduced a moratorium on new card room licenses to cap the size of the sector. There are now 86 active licenses across the state, and San Diego is the only city prohibiting their sale or transfer to another holder.

Legal Trouble

Before its closure last month, Lucky Lady had been San Diego’s only operational card room for six years. Its last competitor – Palomar Casino – was shuttered in 2015 after federal authorities charged more than two dozen people in an international illegal sports betting ring that used the venue.

A year later, in 2016, Lucky Lady’s 83-year-old owner, Mr. Penn, got himself entangled in legal trouble. He was one of 14 people indicted in a federal investigation into an illegal sportsbook that had been operated inside the card room for years.

The main bookmaker, Sanders Bruce Segal, was sentenced to 37 months in prison, while the other individuals involved in the illicit scheme, Mr. Penn included, received probation or time served sentences.

Under the terms of the Lucky Lady owner’s deferred prosecution agreement, he had to make sure to not break any laws for a year. If he had violated the terms of the deal, he could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison.

All charges against Mr. Penn were dropped in April 2020.

Source: Fold‘em: Lucky Lady closure ends card rooms in San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune, June 20, 2021

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