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Vote shuts down social card games at senior center
SNOHOMISH - The Snohomish Senior Center can no longer host social card games for money after a close vote by the City Council last week.
City staff proposed an ordinance to the council which would exempt the Snohomish Senior Center and other nonprofits from a city code banning organized card games, but it was turned down in a 4-3 vote.
Councilmen Paul Kaftanski, Dean Randall, Derrick Burke and Tom Hamilton voted against allowing card games to continue at the senior center and other charitable organizations. Mayor Karen Guzak, Councilwoman Lynn Schilaty and Councilman Michael Rohrscheib voted in favor.
The ordinance will undergo a few changes before coming back to the council.
“Our members use the senior center as a means of socializing, fellowship, exercise, meals and enhancing their mental health with cognitive games, which include bridge, pinochle, and poker among others,” center director Bob Dvorak said. “They play for nickels and dimes; the center is not a for-profit business trying to make a living off gambling. In addition, each of these card groups regularly contribute to the senior center; many of them ask to put these donations towards capital improvement (a building owned by the city) for replacing the front entrance with an automatic door to the building.
“Our members hope that the City Council will reconsider their recent vote on card rooms games played by charitable and nonprofit groups within the city, and please ask you support an interim amendment, similar to the exception above, allowing our seniors to continue to play while you conduct further research on the ramifications of card rooms in the city,” he said. 
The senior center got a letter from the state Gambling Commission on Dec. 12 informing the center that a 2009 amendment to the city code prohibits the senior center from “hosting social card games.”
The city intended to make an exception for the seniors, or more specifically for charitable or nonprofit organizations acting on their own premises.
“It wasn’t the intent of the city to prohibit nonprofits, such as the Snohomish Seniors, from hosting card games,” according to a city document about the 2009 code change.
The social card game prohibition in 2009 was in response to a business proposal to open a social card game establishment on First Street, Hamilton said.
The council majority, however, didn’t agree with the city and wanted more changes made to the ordinance that would allow social card game gatherings in the city.
“I was troubled by this revision because it seemed to address only the senior center and did not discuss the larger issue of whether or not social card games should be allowed in the city,” Hamilton said.
Kaftanski agreed with Hamilton and said he thinks there should be a broader discussion about why the games were banned in the first place, and that council members should be more informed before they vote on the issue.
“It’s not that I’m opposed to it; I just wanted to take a step back and look at it in a more broad context,” Kaftanski said. “I didn’t detect there was an overwhelming emergency to pass (the ordinance last week), and I wanted to make sure that I had sufficient information to move forward.”
Rohrscheib voted in favor of the motion.
“I don’t see the harm in this activity and feel the seniors should be allowed the chance to participate if they feel like it,” he said. “I also think the city needs to take another look at possibly lifting the ban on gaming establishments.”



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