Salinas businessman bets on an upscale card room in Oldtown.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Sal Jimenez walks across the new vine-print carpet of the former Moose Lodge in Salinas. Jimenez’s hair is slicked back and his black shades hang from the V in his unbuttoned, striped shirt. Sunlight dusts the sunken bar and leather stools. This empty den along downtown’s Monterey Street is in hibernation now but won’t be for long. Poker tables will arrive this week, Jimenez says eagerly.
The seasoned businessman wants to host Texas hold ’em and blackjack games on site. He points to several spots on the wood-paneled walls where he’ll hang flat-screen TVs. Behind the bar is a kitchen where staff will grill Mexican food. There will also be booze on tap (beer and wine only, at first). But Jimenez is quick to note the card room, dubbed Bankers Casino, will be a classy joint, not a rowdy dive.
“If you ever watch poker tournaments or have been in a card room, it’s quiet,” Jimenez says. “If you are looking for a bar atmosphere, this won’t be your place. We are looking to really satisfy the local players that enjoy [poker].”
Jimenez isn’t quite ready to cash in. He will get his first deal from the city on May 20 when the City Council considers an ordinance that will regulate Salinas’ lone card room permit. Jimenez has proposed nine card tables with no designated betting limit. The current ordinance allows seven tables with a $20 maximum bet.
Jimenez says he doesn’t want limits on the betting so management has the flexibility to cater games to different players. “Just because we are asking for no limits doesn’t mean we are opening up the flood gates,” he says.
But considering the notorious reputation of Salinas’ previous gambling establishment, Caps Saloon, it’s not going to be an easy sell to city officials. Salinas police shut down the dive across from the Greyhound Bus depot in 2006, after cops got fed up with lax bookkeeping and surrounding crime. The City Council upheld the police’s decision to fold Caps but kept the permit alive for a fresh draw.
Still, Jimenez holds a strong hand. He owns auto-part distributor C & J Collision and sits on the city’s Planning Commission. His business partner and uncle Hector Campos owns San Juanita Tortilla & Tostada Factory. Their family runs several Mexican restaurants. “We are vested in the community,” Jimenez says.
And to ensure the card room’s safety, Jimenez says, Bankers Casino will install 30 security cameras, have plenty of muscle at the door and enforce a strict 21-and-over policy.
“We understand that we have to be on our toes for this,” he says.
Jimenez says he and Campos will invest about $3.5 million in the card room, including the permitting costs and building renovations. Standing in the middle of the building’s wood dance floor, Jimenez says they will also host events, from weddings to crab feeds.
But the foundation of their business – the card room – still needs approval from the state Gambling Control Commission. The commission is scheduled to consider the application June 26. If approved, Bankers Casino would become the county’s second card room after Mortimer’s in Marina.