Chamber mum on casino … for now

– The San Benito County Chamber of Commerce has no immediate
plans to follow in the steps of the Hollister Downtown Association
after the HDA announced its opposition to a proposed Miwok casino
near Hollister last week, Chamber President Jack Hance said.
Hollister – The San Benito County Chamber of Commerce has no immediate plans to follow in the steps of the Hollister Downtown Association after the HDA announced its opposition to a proposed Miwok casino near Hollister last week, Chamber President Jack Hance said.

The business advocacy group has been talking about taking a side, but will wait to decide until after its April 6 board meeting, when both anti-casino group Casinos Represent A Poor Solution and California Valley Miwok Project Manager Gary Ramos will be making presentations, Hance said.

“We have been discussing (taking a stance), but we haven’t gone that route yet,” Hance said. “Because we’re concerned with the economic vitality of the community, quite honestly we’re waiting for this economic impact report, which of course no one has seen yet. So we’re hoping we’ll see something next week, but time will tell.”

Murphy Sabatino, owner of the Cedar House restaurant on Pacheco Pass in Hollister, said he would like to see the chamber take a stand one way or the other, and added while he thought the casino would benefit his business, he hoped the chamber would see it as a social downfall for the community.

“Personally, I’m a businessman and a landowner, and (the casino) would probably be good for me. But it would be a disaster for the community. That’s a serious issue,” he said. “I definitely think the chamber should take a stand. That’s what their business is,” Sabatino said.

An analyst working for Game Won, the group financing the casino project, is preparing an economic report that the investors hope will show a casino’s potential benefits to area businesses, according to Ramos.

But efforts have been stalled now that the investors have decided to conduct a more comprehensive economic net impact report rather than the traditional economic report, he said.

“We’re hoping maybe by mid-April we might be close enough (in negotiations) with the city to at least have ballpark numbers, you know, a good estimate (of the casino’s economic impact),” Ramos said last week. “Then we’d be able to go ahead and push the impact report on. Once we’ve got that we think it would take about four-six weeks to finish.”

While the report won’t be completed in time for the chamber’s April 6 board meeting, Ramos said he will be making the group’s standard presentation, which will include an overview of a bus tour system he said the casino may operate to get visitors out of the casino and into downtown Hollister.

Still, he said, he won’t be able to present as much information to the chamber as he’d like, nor as much as he thinks is necessary for them to make an informed decision.

“If they’re talking just in the straight business sense, I think it’s really a bit early because it’s the economic impact report that would give them the information that I’m just guessing at right now,” Ramos said. “These meetings should probably be happening after we’ve been able to meet with the city. Whatever (the chamber) decides, if it’s to come out against, again they are making that stand before they have all the information. They’re welcome to do that, they have the choice to do that, but when we negotiate things with the city, we’re always willing to talk with them again.”

But the Miwoks and their investors won’t be trying to win over the chamber just yet, Ramos said. Instead, they’d rather wait until after talks Ramos is having with the city of Hollister result in some figures.

“We’re not going to negotiate with the Downtown Association, the Chamber, the Farm Bureau, or anyone else,” Ramos said. “I think it’s important to get back with the businesses and sit down, but I think it’s too early, and I wouldn’t sacrifice the position that I feel is right … working with the elected city officials first.”

CRAPS will also be making a presentation at the meeting, according to Chairman Steve Merrell, who said he’ll probably spend most of his time answering questions from the chamber members.

“One of the concerns I have is that these are business people (in the chamber), so they’re going to look at the business side and they might say ‘On the owners’ side it looks like they’re going to make a lot of money,'” Merrell said. “But I think most of them will come to see that yeah, it’s great for those owners, but if you give somebody a monopoly on any good, like slot machines, they’re going to make a lot of money, but it doesn’t mean anybody else in town is going to benefit from it.”

The chamber’s board of directors will probably be voting on a stance at some point after they feel they’ve gotten enough information on the project, Hance said, but businesses member may get the chance to get involved.

“Typically it’s a board action, but because of the magnitude of the issue it may go to a full-membership vote,” he said.

Liz Sparling, who will be taking office as the director of the chamber next month, was also the director of the HDA when it came out against the casino.

But Sparling said she couldn’t say yet which side of the issue the chamber board might be leaning toward.

“I have not been to one of their board meetings yet, so I don’t really think it’s my place to comment yet,” she said. “When it comes to this whole thing, I’m still pretty green.”

And Hance said that even though Game Won is a member of the San Benito County Chamber, that status wouldn’t affect the chamber’s decision.

“It’s an open organization, and they have the right to join,” Hance said. “The fact that they joined will not influence our decision on the casino, absolutely not.”

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