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Fate of Lucky Lady card room could be determined in court

SAN DIEGO – The future of the last operating card room in San Diego could be determined in court, after a City Council committee Wednesday rejected an appeal by its owner against the denial of his police permit renewal.

The unanimous decision by the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee puts the future of the Lucky Lady Casino and Card Room and around 100 jobs in jeopardy. The committee members said the legal standards on whether to let the appeal go forward weren’t met.

Lawyer Gretchen Von Helms, who represents owner Stanley Penn, told City News Service she would take the issue to court.

According to city documents, the San Diego Police Department denied the renewal early this year, contending that Penn, 79, failed to disclose that he was one of several defendants under federal indictment for allegedly allowing an illegal sports book to be run out of the establishment.

The ruling also cited Penn’s transfer of operating control of the business.

The police decision was upheld by a city hearing officer in March. The current permit allows the Lucky Lady, 5529 El Cajon Blvd., to remain open until November.

Numerous supporters of Penn spoke to the committee members, many of whom said their family income depended on their jobs at the Lucky Lady.

Penn himself told the committee members that he has complied with city regulations for four decades and annually filled out police permit applications. He claimed the application form was changed in 2015, leading to his mistakes.

“I’ve been a good part of this community a long time,” Penn said. “I employ a lot of people. They have good jobs. If they were to lose this job, they would have a hard time replacing it.”

Penn, who has run the business for 43 years, contended in his appeal that he was denied a chance to make a full presentation of his case to the hearing officer, that no evidence was presented to the hearing officer to support the decision, that the decision conflicts with City Council police and/or the municipal code, and that the appeal presents a citywide issue best left to the City Council.

The City Attorney’s office refuted each point in a recent memo.

Penn faces federal charges of racketeering and running an illegal gambling business, based on an FBI investigation that started three years ago. Trial is scheduled for Oct. 3.

Eight defendants have pleaded guilty in the case, including a Swedish businessman who financed the sports betting operation and provided access to offshore sports-gaming websites hosted in Curacao, Costa Rica, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom so they could place large illegal bets online while shielding their activity from U.S. authorities, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.