Illegal after the fact

A county judge swats the City of Shoreline for instant lawmaking in a horse racing case.

CAROL HENRY HAD ONE last hoop to jump through.

The manager of Parker's Casino and Nightclub on Aurora Avenue was ready to add off-track betting on the horse races at Emerald Downs to the Shoreline nightspot's list of attractions. Having received the all-important approval of the Washington State Horse Racing Commission, she simply needed a letter from the city of Shoreline confirming that off-track betting was allowed under the property's zoning.

Instead, the club found itself in a court battle with Shoreline—a fight it seems to have won quickly and decisively. This weekend, the horses will be running at Parker's via closed-circuit television, and Shoreline officials will still be nursing their wounds from a cutting decision delivered earlier this month by King County Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf.

A quick time line: Henry sent her letter to Shoreline on March 8. A week later, she received a terse reply asking for more information. She replied promptly, but Shoreline officials failed to return her calls for the next two weeks. Worried about getting the operation set up in time for the opening day of race season (April 15), club management called in attorney Dave Osgood, known for his high-profile battles on behalf of Seattle-area nightclubs.

But when Osgood finally reached Planning Director Timothy Stewart on March 27, he was informed that the Shoreline City Council had imposed a six-month moratorium on satellite horse race betting operations—at the previous night's meeting.

Shoreline's move was largely tactical, explains Osgood. State law allows racetracks one satellite betting location in each county, and Emerald Downs wanted to relocate their King County operation from a Kirkland club to Parker's. If the city could use the moratorium—or a court challenge—to keep Parker's out of the horse race business during the six-month racing season, financial pressure would force the track to move operations elsewhere. Bob Fraser, director of operations for Emerald Downs, says the track hasn't had any problems with siting satellite betting operations during the five years it has operated the program. Shoreline had already banned new card room operations, like those operating at Parker's and several other Aurora Avenue clubs, in mid-1999.

But, as Henry had clearly requested the permit before the moratorium was imposed, attorney Osgood felt Shoreline couldn't legally block Parker's. And, despite the city's recruitment of a high-priced downtown Seattle attorney to aid in their arguments, Alsdorf issued a preliminary injunction on April 20 allowing the club to open its betting operation immediately.

These injunctions are issued when a judge feels one side is likely to prevail at trial, and Alsdorf's ruling all but settled the major issues in the case. He rejected several of Shoreline's arguments and ordered the city to immediately issue permission to Parker's. Unless Shoreline can convince the judge to reconsider his ruling, the only major issue remaining is damages—the delays from the court case caused the club to miss the first two weeks of horse racing season. Osgood likes his chances on both counts: "They've sort of prejudiced their case through the underhanded way they snuck in this moratorium," he says.

Shoreline City Attorney Ian Sievers says the city wants to close the case. "We're certainly looking for ways to push this to a conclusion, now that Alsdorf's made the ruling he has," he notes.

Osgood, who last week won a case over the city of Seattle's drug abatement action against the Oscar's II nightclub, is becoming the attorney of choice for nightspots suing over issues ranging from liquor license suspensions to prohibitions on live music. He jokes that the Parker's case has added horse racing to his usual staples of "booze, drugs, and rock 'n' roll," but isn't concerned with the controversial nature of his caseload. "If every one of my clients was a saint and all government bureaucrats were bright," he says, "I'd starve to death."

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