Despite filing for bankruptcy last November, the Mars Hotel in downtown Spokane on Thursday became the second casino in Eastern Washington authorized for Las Vegas-style, house-banked card games. The Washington State Gambling Commission approved the status Thursday after the Mars upgraded its security - a requirement for state approval.
House banking allows the Mars to play against patrons in numerous card games - like blackjack - in the same way Las Vegas casinos do.
The commission granted house-bank status to the Mars despite the casino having liabilities of $2.9 million and assets of $2.7 million, according to a bankruptcy court document filed last December.
The city of Spokane is owed roughly $80,000 plus interest in gambling taxes from the Mars, said Paul Tanners, city auditor.
The actual entity in bankruptcy is the Spokane Mars Limited Partnership. Robert Saucier is the primary shareholder of Mars Hotel Corp., the primary owner of the partnership.
By law, the gambling commission can neither pull the Mars’ gambling license nor deny house-bank status simply because it’s involved in a bankruptcy, said Amy Patjens, a commission legal advisor.
Saucier could not be reached for comment on Wednesday or Thursday. Court files indicate the bankruptcy is pending.
Last fall, the Mars faced a threat of losing its liquor license from the Washington state Liquor Control Board. In December, the license was renewed, but there are still violations pending from 1996 for serving drunken patrons, said Chuck Dalrymple, license supervisor in Olympia.
“Looking at the file, it looks like we are waiting for a hearing date,” Dalrymple said.
None of this seems to deter the Mars in trumpeting its new status. An enormous banner on the outside of the restaurant on the corner of Sprague and Bernard advertised the casino Thursday.
The Mars got the state’s blessing after installing surveillance cameras and detailing everything from where the key to the cashier’s cage is kept to who counts the money.
“It is not a small undertaking for these operators,” said Carrie Tellefson, commission director of policy, planning and support. “It is quite a cumbersome process.”
An array of closed-circuit television cameras can cost around $100,000, Tellefson said. There are other expenses as well.
“You also have to be able to lose money. The house has to be able to withstand large player wins,” she said.
Before the Legislature allowed house banking in 1997, card players at nontribal casinos had to act as their own bank and dealer. Casinos made money by charging players a fee to sit at the table, a per-hand fee, or by using other methods - none of which allowed the casino to play.