The Normandie Casino in California Might Close Its Doors Soon
The Normandie Casino is the oldest poker room in Calfornia, having opened under the name “Western Club” in 1947. A recent set of indictments might signal the end of the Normandie Casino, though.
The current owners of the Normandie Casino pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in January 2016. No owner or member of upper management received felony charges, but the casino admitted they helped high rollers hide winnings, presumably to allow the treasured high roller to avoid taxes on his winnings.
Under terms of the deal, the Miller Family agreed to sell the property in a four-month window, but that means the family is likely to get less-on-the-dollar than it might under normal circumstances. Even selling the Normandie might be considered unthinkable for the Millers, because the property has been in their family’s possession for their entire lives.
Plea Bargain in the Case
The Normandie Casino paid $1.3 million in forfeitures of illegal funds, along with another $1 million in fines to the federal government. The case stemmed from a high roller who won over $1 million in a six-week span in 2013. Investigators also said the casino showed a pattern of failing to give proper oversight and scrutiny to transactions they “had reason to suspect“.
At the time, Mark Wersman, the Miller family’s attorney, said, “The Normandie has cooperated with the government to resolve this case in a positive way that allows the club to move forward from this investigation and to continue doing business as it has for the past 70 years, as the best gambling establishment in Southern California.”
Must Sell the Normandie Casino
The evidence shows that authorities worked with the owners. Convicted felons cannot own a Calfornia gaming license and the card room has to close. For that reason, California gaming regulators gave the Miller Family four months to find a new buyer and sell the property.
Time is running out and there are no indications that the owners have found a new buyer. In April, the Employment Development Department of California learned from the owners they planned to let go up to 370 workers, a sign that business is winding down.
Larry Flynt Might Buy
There is some speculation that Larry Flynt might buy the casino. Flynt’s Hustler Casino is down the street from the Normandie Casino, so it would make sense to own both business. There is a chance the publisher might want to close down a rival, though.
It might be hard to find a buyer. Card rooms are allowed to have table games and poker, but they cannot have slot machines. Slot machines generate about 70% of casino’s revenues, so lacking a slots row is a major impediment in business. Over they years, tribal casinos and large private casinos have squeezed out the old style poker clubs.
Russ Miller and Mary Miller
Seling is a hard decision to make, but one which is out of the hands of the Millers. Russ and Mary Miller opened the Western Club on Rosecrans Avenue in Gardena in 1947. The two renamed the place the Normandie Room in 1954. At the time, gambling was illegal in California, but lawmakers allowed an exception for poker, which they liked.
Five-Card Draw and Lowball were the only games allowed at the time. After a legal battle in the 1970s, the Millers were allowed to introduce Texas Hold’em and Seven-Card Stud. In the 1980s, the Normandie Room began to draw Asian clientele, as they installed tables for Pai Gow Poker, Blackjack, and Super 9.
Russ Miller expanded the casino to have its “Million Dollar Showroom”. A few years later, he added the Red Dragon Room, which included both an outdoor setting and tables for Baccarat and Blackjack. Russ Miller died in 1997 at the age of 90. Mary Miller died in 2001 at the age of 78. That left their four son (Lee, Larry, Greg, and Steve) in charge. They eventually were joined by Miller grandchildren.
Despite the money laundering case, it is difficult to discover which part of management was held responsible for the infractions. Though gaming regulators want new ownership for the establishment, no one was convicted of a crime. While pleading guilty to money laundering charges is well beyond “the appearance of impropriety”, no one in the ownership group appears to have broken the state’s laws on gaming operators being convicted of crimes.
Under the circumstances, it is a possible that the family could fight the gaming regulators’ order to sell in court. That does not appear to be a consideration, though. One can only hope that a buyer is found before the casino closes for good.
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