San Diego County’s newest casino welcomed visitors during a grand opening ceremony Thursday in Chula Vista, drawing praise from city leaders while causing some nearby homeowners to raise their eyebrows.
The Seven Mile Casino, at 285 Bay Boulevard, replaces the Village Club Card Room which opened in 1946. The casino’s second generation owner, Harvey Souza, called the new upscale location a dream.
“I worked at it for a long time and hopefully it will be beneficial to the whole community,” said Souza.
At a time when California has stopped licensing new card rooms, and cities like San Diego work to close them, Chula Vista leaders championed the project and showed up in force for Thursday’s grand opening. Click here to read the city of Chula Vista’s gaming memo.
“I just have a long history and track record with the city and I grew up here, I lived here, I always participated with the city and over my lifetime,” said Souza. “I think I’ve built a reputation and they trusted in me and that’s how we were able to expand the business.”
The Seven Mile Casino is one of only four in San Diego County, with one in Oceanside and two in San Diego.
A San Diego city ordinance says when the owners of its last two card rooms pass away, their businesses will have to close up shop too. Click here to read the city of San Diego’s policy on card room operations.
Critics of casinos associate them with trouble.
“I guess for me, I’d say I’d rather not have temptation around for young people that should have healthier alternatives,” said Keri Miller, a Chula Vista teacher.
Others worry about the addiction aspect of gambling.
“I go to o a church where we deal with a lot of people who deal with addictions. Gambling, I’ve heard from the people that get caught up in it, it’s harder to let go of the gambling than the drugs,” said Chula Vista homeowner Francis Espericueta.
Patrons of the newly opened casino point to its commercial location on the west side of Interstate 5 as being convenient for locals who want to partake, but not in a neighborhood impacting those with concerns.
“As long as it’s not next to a school, next to a church, I think it would be fine for everybody. Free enterprise,” said Saul Nass, who traveled from Tierrasanta for the opening. Nass said he enjoys the smoke-free atmosphere, which is different from casinos on tribal land.
Unlike tribal casinos, the Seven Mile doesn’t have slot machines, but with blackjack, baccarat, pai-gow and poker, there are plenty of options for gamblers.
“It’s a nice new place. Food is really good and it’s nice to have a casino closer to home compared to Sycuan or Viejas, or someplace like that,” said Barry Ohara who lives in Imperial Beach.
Supporters told NBC 7 it gives older individuals, who may not be able to participate in physical activities, a social outlet in a fun environment.
The casino will definitely help Chula Vista’s bottom line with the highest licensing fee in the city. As a “privileged business,” Souza said he pays a license fee of more than $500,000 annually.
“It does help other businesses in the sense that the people who come here buy gas, go to the store, and stop on their way to and from and stuff like that,” said Souza. The longtime owner is known for being active in the community and says he plans to share the fruits of his labor with local nonprofits.