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Charity Poker Eyed for Towne Center

Organization wants to occupy one of empty storefronts

In Avon Lake, it’s about filling empty storefronts and putting cars in the parking lot. And a charity poker site in Towne Center could help with both, while helping out local organizations.

PokerTek, a company that supplies fully automated gaming machines, is considering opening a charity poker site in Towne Center this year. Company representatives gave a presentation to the city’s Economic Development Committee and Economic Development Advisory Board last month and is expected to address city council at the Jan. 17 meeting.

“The group came to us to see if it’s viable,” Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka said.
“Mr. Kopf and his group looked on it somewhat skeptically, but he saw it as putting cars into the parking lot.”

Kopf Builders owns Towne Center, which currently has several empty storefronts including the former Tops Market and Blockbuster Video.

“We will entertain any kind of economic development concept,” Zilka said. “It’s an opportunity for the city. If it’s run the way they say it will be, it will be an outstanding opportunity for the city. It’s also a way for (charitable) organizations to raise a large amount of money.”

The proposal is far from being a done deal and Zilka said he’s already received some negative feedback. The idea though, could be a boon to local charities and the actual operation does not lend itself to problems experienced by gambling operations where money is exchanged.

“That happened at the American Legion Hall when it was raided,” Zilka said. “In this, no money changes hands.”

The operation is similar to the Nautica Charity Poker Festivals held in the Cleveland Flats until June 2012, when the festivals stopped as a result of the opening of nearby Horseshoe Casino.

How it works       

PokerTek already operates an eastside operation in Willoughby Hills. PokerTek  representative David Harbarger, of Fifth Street Entertainment in Cleveland, said Nautica could be described as a “prototype” for his company.  

“You need to have charities signed up,” Harbarger said, adding it was not a sweepstakes or Internet café, the latter of which is under legal review in Ohio.

Charities can host the events for a four to five-day festival, receiving the bulk of the net proceeds. Anyone in the public, over the age of 21, can enter the café to play.

A cage, manned by a person affiliated with the host charity will “fill” gambling cards with currency.

“It’s sort of like an ATM card with personal information, including the driver’s license or state ID card,” Harbarger said. “This will make sure you’re of age. You’ll be asked how much money you want to have put on the card.”

Those cards will then be used at the electronic machines.

“They’re regular tables, with 10 people around them, but it’s all virtual,” Harbarger said.

As seen in the photo, a center screen will show poker cards. Individuals around the table will each have their own screen where cards are dealt, viewed virtually when a hand is “covering” the screen (see photo).

“There’s no human dealers,” Harbarger said. “This is a new technology. The machines keep track of everything.

Payouts, money taken in and information on who won money, is recorded.

One advantage the system offers is accountability.

“The Attorney General’s office can audit very quickly,” Harbarger said. “If the city wants to audit them they push a button (to review information).

“I cannot stress enough there is complete accountability.”

At the end of the festival, the sponsoring charity will get a report of exactly what transactions occurred and the amount they are owed.

Harbarger said PokerTec will lease the machines and the facility will be run by a not-yet-determined operator.

The basic plan will have the center open from 2 p.m. to midnight during the week and possibly 2 a.m. on the weekend, depending on what the city permits.

“It may not be open seven days a week,” Harbarger said.

He noted the Nautica festivals were so popular there was often a two to three-month wait before a non-profit was able to host a festival.

Also undetermined is what storefront it will be in. Blockbuster is an option, but a second unnamed option is being considered. The Tops location is too large.

If the idea is favorably received by council, it would still be four to five months before the center is open and operational.

Benefits, opposition

Council president Martin O’Donnell said he understood the facilities were upscale opportunities and that many groups, from non-profit school groups to sports organizations could quickly generate revenue. He also supported the idea of bringing in more traffic to Avon Lake.

“With the (Nagel) Interchange now open, it could be another way to get people in to Avon Lake, shop here and go to our restaurants,” O’Donnell said. “We hear about how we need to support local businesses and this could help.”

O’Donnell noted that non-profits could bring in their own food, possibly from local businesses and alcohol would be permitted if a charity get a temporary liquor license to sell alcohol, similar one the city obtained this past summer for the wine festival.

O’Donnell said many questions were asked at the economic meetings and some skepticism was received.

Both Zilka and O’Donnell said the idea will be fully vetted and the public would have an opportunity to express thoughts at meetings.

“A timeline is not set,” Zilka said. “The first step is to air it publicly.”

Dee January 08, 2013 at 12:21 PM
Why not try to bring in a chucky cheese, chick fil a, specialty type grocery store or other-a little higher class places? Avon lake is trying to grow yet maintain an image, so why not seek out these types of places? Make arrangements where there are lease agreements with tax INCENTIVES!!!!
Phil January 08, 2013 at 09:33 PM
The mishandling of that property is an embarrassment to the city. The building owner needs to be brought to task for how he handles his leasing and tenants (from what I was told per the previous Quiznos owner). And the mayor and city officials need to be called out for not putting more effort into working with the owner to get those spaces filled. I feel bad for all the restaurant owners that have tried to take a chance on that corner spot and have failed. I just recently tried to go back to the Wood Fire Grill, and found that now to be closed after only being open a little over a year. Something needs to be done with that space (as we've been saying for years now), but I don't think adding a gambling facility is the answer. I moved to Avon Lake because I liked the fact that it was once a more "upscale" city. It's a slippery slope between putting in a poker place, and then allowing the internet cafes,check cashing places, and sattelite/cell phone dealers to start moving in.
JB January 09, 2013 at 07:13 PM
Sweet idea.....just go get $250,000 together and start up the business. What do you plan to do with the place the other seven months of the year when they are at the outdoor skate park?
JB January 09, 2013 at 07:17 PM
Chucky Cheese is high-class? Pretty sure no other grocery store can go in while Tops is still paying the rent.
Noone April 04, 2013 at 04:37 PM
This is going to be a big nasty looking pimple on the face of our community .Is this really the sort of image we want to throw out there for surrounding neighborhoods to see? I've always thought of our community as a safe place to raise my family but if this was here years ago when I was looking to move I wouldn't of bought a home in this town. This is not going to look good for buying and selling homes in our town . Open an all season skating rink ,one like Winterhurst in Lakewood. Give the parents a place where they feel safe sending their children of all ages to learn and expand their talents as well as having fun,open a useful Youth Center for God sakes! Give the children of this community something to do year round!! There's your rent money! Poster Adele,12:38 pm on Monday, January 7, 2013 hit the nail on the head with her post! As did everyone else on here. This is a HUGE mistake for our community . Anyone know if there are any protest signs to post in our yards to send the message out to the city on how we feel about the ghettoizing of our town?

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