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Gold Rush Casino doesn’t have to fold

Brittany Retherford
Staff writer

SACRAMENTO – Nevada County’s poker players can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Their only legal gambling facility, the Gold Rush Casino and Gaming Parlor, can keep its doors open, according to a Thursday afternoon ruling by the California Gambling Control Commission.

At least for now.

“If we had our desires, we would close the doors today,” said Dean Shelton, chair of the commission that regulates gaming throughout the state. “The way our regulations are, we cannot give a straight out denial (of the license).”

Grass Valley resident and club owner Sue Barrows was temporarily forced to shut her doors and then put on four-month probation for failing to file paperwork on time in September 2005 – something Barrows said was an unintentional error. What resulted was a series of additional accusations of gambling law violations that are currently being investigated by the California Department of Justice.

The allegations include lending money, gambling while on duty and failing to repay house debts, among others.

The probationary period was up for review Thursday and the commission unanimously voted to extend the temporary license until April 30 to investigate the allegations. An evidentiary hearing was also approved that will allow Barrows to defend herself against the accusations, but could also result in closure of the club. No date was set for the hearing.

Barrows, who has owned the business since 2002, was not present at Thursday’s meeting. She said Thursday afternoon that she takes pride in caring for her customers and making the gaming parlor into a respectable, comfortable, and safe place to gamble.

She also said there was a core group who tried to push her out of her gaming parlor, and made her business life “very hard.”

“It has hurt me but not kept me down,” she said. “I’ve never done anything criminal in my life.”

Several former employees and customers – along with one Grass Valley police officer – made the trek to the commission’s Sacramento headquarters for Thursday’s meeting, including her former business partner and boyfriend, Douglas Moore.

Moore, who spoke during the public hearing, said Barrows owed him and his family more than $140,000 and asked the commission to require her to repay the debts upon sale of the business.

Barrows denies owing Moore money, but said she is selling the Gold Rush to Cal-Pac, a company that already owns one casino in Petaluma.

Barrows was represented at the hearing by her attorney, Robert Tabor, whose specialty is gambling law and has offices in both Sacramento and Las Vegas. He said his client has learned from her mistakes, and is now in compliance with the law.

“She has corrected every deficiency noted by the commission and is currently compliant,” he said, also explaining that the gaming industry might be highly regulated, but that the process itself is relatively new.

“The commission is learning how to be regulators, and the card clubs are learning how to be regulated,” he said.

Barrows was handed down 10 conditions along with the temporary license – if she violates these it could result in an emergency closure, said the commission.

Some of the conditions include that Barrows must have sufficient funds to cover all wins; she must comply with requests from the investigators for financial paperwork; she must be following all accounting, labor, and tax requirements; she must cooperate with ongoing criminal investigations with the Grass Valley police department; she, nor employees, are not allowed to use house funds to gamble; and she must refrain from gambling while on duty.

The commission’s chief attorney, Cyrus Rickards, said the last condition was instituted because “part of the problem is that she’s present, but she’s also gambling, so the person whose setting the rules is also gambling.”

Barrows admits that she was partaking, but only in certain games in which she believed it legal.

“All small card room owners play in their own game to make the game five handed; four people don’t like to play four handed,” she said. “I am here to add tips to the table and keep the game going. I am basically risking my own money. Over the years I’ve lost, but it has been the cost of doing business.”

Barrows said Thursday afternoon that she has no problem abiding by the commission’s new conditions.

A purchasing agreement for the sale of the Gold Rush to Cal-Pac has also been signed, but the deal has not been closed, Tabor said.

Before Cal-Pac can be granted a license, the commission must first perform an investigation of the new owners. Tabor said that can take anywhere from a few weeks up to two years. But, he said, Cal-Pac’s good standing with the commission might expedite the process.

The commission nixed Tabor’s idea to allow Cal-Pac to manage the business during the interim period, saying they did not have the jurisdiction to permit that.

“At first blush, (the situation) looks bad,” Tabor said, “but in reality it will be a great boon for the Gold Rush.”

To contact staff writer Brittany Retherford, e-mail brittanyr@theunion.com or call 477-4247.

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