Reopened Grass Valley cardroom closed by California; Police, health department field violation complaints on daily basis
Towers Casino, a Grass Valley cardroom that reopened Monday against state guidelines, was ordered closed the following day by the state Department of Justice.
“(The emergency closure) was served by special agents with our Bureau of Gambling Control last night,” a press representative of the California Attorney General said in a Wednesday email.
The emergency order from the Bureau of Gambling Control cited Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March executive orders, by which licensed gambling establishments such as card rooms are required to be closed.
The order read, “While some closures are being lifted by the Governor, partially or in phases, no card room, including [Towers Casino], have been permitted to re-open legally.”
The card room had posted announcements of opening their doors to the public on their public social media accounts, and updated its website to show a message detailing various safety precautions that would be taken in reopening.
These included a list of cleaning protocols, a requirement that both staff members and patrons wear masks, and measures to follow distancing recommendations in the card room.
In a video posted Tuesday night on a Facebook page of user named Brandt Jeffery, whose profile lists him as a dealer employed by Towers Casino, several agents wearing masks and gloves can be seen surrounding a card table as they give the order to close.
The video shows card room patrons, also masked, sitting side by side around the table as Towers Casino owner Jamey Robinson voices her reaction to the order.
“I did everything I was supposed to do,” said Robinson. “I was contacted from the Nevada County health department. I logged into a seminar. I have all the documentation.”
Nevada County Environmental Health Director Amy Irani said, “What happened with Towers is that they are in our list of facilities, so in order to get the message out about dine-in facilities, we mass emailed all the addresses in our database that dine-in was open and what the parameters would be.”
“That was just for dine-in food facilities,” Irani continued, “so they are not permitted as a bar and casino to open until Phase Three, and we had been saying that via other types of documentation as well as the Frequently Asked Questions section of our website.”
In the video, Robinson goes on to say, “I was not given notice that I should close down by anybody. The Grass Valley Police Department requested that I close down — I denied them, that was it.”
“We had an officer contact them to assess the level of their opening, because there are various aspects to their business – food service, a bar, and gaming,” Grass Valley Police Capt. Steve Johnson said. “Depending on how you interpret the state guidelines, requirements, and reopening phases, certain aspects of that business would be allowed and others would not.”
“We provided them with written notice of how we interpreted it and our suggestions for that, but at that point, the state got involved so we stepped out of it,” said Johnson. “We never took any enforcement action with them.”
In the posted Facebook video, the issue of the business serving different functions was discussed by Robinson and Department of Justice agents.
“You really have no legal right to kick out my patrons who might be having bar service or eating food,” said Robinson.
One agent can be heard saying, “We’re closing the card room,” later emphasizing that he and the other agents present don’t work with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control , which would be able to make decisions involving the bar.
Robinson was contacted Friday, and declined to comment on the situation.
Johnson said Grass Valley officers serve residents representing the full spectrum regarding concern over the novel coronavirus, presenting conflict in how residents view law enforcement on related issues.
“Both sides call us to manage the other side,” Johnson said. “It’s a daily challenge for local law enforcement to really understand how to best address these issues, and the only thing we can do is take them on a case-by-case basis.”
He described the department’s usual course of action as an inspection of any reported business, and guidance provided to the business owner regarding necessary changes.
Johnson said that in each case so far the department has either determined the business in question to be within guidelines, or the business has voluntarily complied with police guidance regarding changes. No arrests or citations have been made related to the ongoing reopening process.
Nevada County Department of Environmental Health’s role in enforcing guidelines for businesses, Irani said,
“We head out to talk to the owner or operator, and tell them that at this point, you have to have risk mitigation factors,” she said. “If we get repeat offenders, then of course we’ll elevate the situation, and work with our local counsel to see how best to do that.”
As far as consequences, Irani mentioned that if violations are serious enough, fines may be assessed or a business may be ordered to close until they remedy the issue.
Irani added that the department receives several calls every day related to reopening businesses, generally from people concerned about the cleaning protocol, lack of mask usage, or overcrowding of a business.
Gambling establishments, which will not be permitted to open in California until Phase Three of the reopening timeline established by the governor, remain closed in neighboring Nevada as well.
“A date for the resumption of gaming operations in the state of Nevada has not been established,” said Michael Lawton, a senior research analyst with the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
While the board has issued industry guidelines for which health and safety precautions will be required of gambling establishments upon reopening, it will be Nevada’s governor who will determine when these can go into effect.
“Per the (governor’s) directive issued on May 7, gaming will not re-open in Phase One,” said Lawton.
Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union.
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