By Alfredo Santana
BELL GARDENS — The John Park Trust, owners of Park West Casinos, hotels and card rooms in Northern California, has purchased the gambling unit of the Bicycle Hotel & Casino and has urged the Bell Gardens City Council to grant club licenses to start operations.
Bell Gardens has scheduled a special council meeting to deal with the casino’s change of ownership and request of business licenses following the transaction approval and issuance of state permits by the California Gambling Control Commission on March 24.
The rebranded Parkwest Bicycle Casino also submitted an application to obtain two management employee licenses for trust beneficiary and owner John Park and for Michael Vasey, the new officer and director.
Also, applications to obtain point-holding licenses were submitted for the Park West Casinos Inc., the John Park Trust, John Park and for Emily Park, who is John’s wife and second trust beneficiary.
The Bell Gardens Municipal Code defines point holder as a person with an interest in ownership, profit sharing or card club revenues, be it direct or indirect through a partnership, joint venture or a corporation.
John Park and Michael Visey had a small stake in the Bicycle Casino’s ownership before its recent purchase, and both hold point-holder licenses that would need to be renewed at a cost of $100 each.
In all, the new owners paid $38,000 to process the business operating licenses.
Carter Management Group and Thousand Palms Enterprises were the previous Bicycle Casino proprietors. The purchase price was not disclosed.
The sale includes all assets to conduct gambling operations, and allows the new owners to assume the ground lease of the Bicycle Hotel & Casino.
A report prepared by Bell Gardens Police Chief Scott Fairfield and Lt. Paul Camacho indicated that the state’s Bureau of Gambling Control ran an initial background report of the purchase that did not reveal “any disqualifying information that would preclude the issuance of a card room business license” to Parkwest Bicycle Casino.
The Bureau of Gambling Control, a division of the California Office of the Attorney General, recommended the business license approval with the caveat that Bell Gardens agreed to grant the operation licenses before completing the deal.
The document indicates that employees with valid registrations issued by the Bell Gardens Police Department directly employed by the new Parkwest Bicycle Casino “may maintain their registration status at the close of the transaction,” and their renewals would be carried, according to city code.
Before workers started employment with the Bicycle Casino, they had to undergo a criminal background check with the Bell Gardens Police Department and submit photographs and a set of fingerprints before being cleared to receive an identification badge.
The new key management employee licenses have a fee of $100 that are renewable annually and issued by the police department.
Also, the new casino owners asked the City Council to pledge interest of membership in the Parkwest Casino and its stock to secure an undisclosed loan made on the owner’s behalf to complete the transaction.
The document concluded that the applicants satisfied all application requirements for the granting of operating permits.
In the application letter submitted to City Manager Michael O’Kelly, Vasey said that the Parkwest Bicycle Casino required approval “by the city of Bell Gardens before it can close the transaction and start business.”
Vasey described the buyer as an entity fully owned by Park West Casinos and the John H. Park Trust as its owner.
“Mr. Park currently operates five licensed card rooms, and holds two third-party providers/funded players licenses in California,” Vasey wrote.
Located at 888 Bicycle Casino Drive, the Bicycle Casino is one of the largest employers in Bell Gardens with 1,250 employees and also is a large source of tax revenue for the city, as it became clear during COVID-19 county mandated closures.
In 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, former Bell Gardens Mayor Alejandra Cortez revealed that the city lost at least $9 million out of $15 million it receives a year due to two hotel and casino closures.
The lost income threw the city into financial turmoil, resulting in dozens of layoffs and curtailment of services.
On the other hand, the Bicycle Casino has a history of activities that have resulted in steep penalties, and even a stint of ownership by the federal government.
Last November, management at the casino agreed to pay $500,000 for failure to report a high roller who bet millions and exchanged cash in 2016, in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act.
Casino operators admitted wrongdoing after they failed to record and report to the government transactions of more than $10,000 incurred by a Chinese national gambler within a 24-hour period.
That individual visited the facility about 100 times within eight months in 2016, transporting large cash sums, sometimes in duffle bags.
An employee said in a statement to authorities that once the high roller withdrew $2 million from his account at 2:45 p.m. and continued betting in a private room through 1:20 a.m. the following day.
In 1990, six years after the casino opened, the federal government appropriated 36.2% of its holdings, following a jury trial that found $12 million of the $22 million funneled for its construction were laundered by drug kingpins in Florida.
The government sold its temporary ownership share for $25.3 million to Ladbroke Racing Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a unit of British gambling conglomerate Ladbroke Group PLC.