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July 30, 2014

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Casino owner says he worries about problem gamblers, opposes Internet gaming

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Justin M. Bowen

Klondike Sunset owner John Woodrum says he’s sure online gambling will be legalized, and he worries the effect on poor customers.

Klondike Sunset Casino

Compulsive gambling is a tricky topic in a town where casino operators are considered economic engines and icons of ingenuity instead of unsavory merchants muddying the water between entertainment and highway robbery.

This makes casino owner John Woodrum something of an enigma. He worries about those customers who can’t resist the slots’ siren call.

Woodrum, 72, owns the Klondike Sunset, a neighborhood casino that depends on repeat visits from nearby residents, including people, he says, who are perpetually broke.

“Nothing bothers me as much as seeing people lose more than they can afford,” he says. “I’ve told people, ‘Why don’t you just walk away and let it go for a while?’ ” But they don’t.

And so Woodrum is conflicted. He runs a casino but worries about his poor customers losing money. Does he feel so strongly about this that he’d close his business and retire? Well, no. Because even if he did, there are plenty of other casinos in town. And yet, he has seen plenty of lives ruined by gambling from his perspective — one that many big casino executives don’t have.

And now there’s a new threat to gamblers, he says: Internet gambling. No way, no how should that be allowed, he says.

Of course he would say that, right? Internet gambling would hurt his business by allowing his customers to stay home and gamble.

Woodrum understands that people may not believe his more altruistic motive in fighting Internet gambling.

His casino career began inauspiciously. He planned to drive through Nevada from California in 1963 but ran out of gas in a casino parking lot with a few dollars in his pocket. He never left, working in casinos and getting married. He ended up owning the Klondike at the southern end of the Strip — a budget casino known for its Western-themed exterior that was torn down in 2006 to make way for redevelopment. His 43-year marriage has beaten the odds in a demanding business known to strain marriages and close relationships, and he has accepted the slim profit margins that come with small casinos such as his.

But harder to accept is the knowledge that people have lost homes and relationships to gambling’s pull.

When Woodrum talks about “gamblers,” he isn’t referring to the majority of Americans who gamble occasionally or for recreation. He means those who “will gamble every penny they’ve got” and leave nothing for the next generation.

And now comes online gambling to tease them, including the millions of Americans who play online poker for money although it is considered an illegal activity.

Many casino operators think legalized online gambling is inevitable, if only because of a natural tendency to push for regulating activities that have grown acceptable and widespread.

Driving to a casino to gamble is one thing, Woodrum says. “Allowing it for people every minute of every day (at home) and you’ve got a whole different animal on your hands.”

Although Woodrum’s view on Internet gambling smacks of protectionism, especially coming from a small casino that can’t compete against the giants and their increasingly international brands, Las Vegas attorney Jeff Silver understands where he is coming from.

“Given the Harvard MBA types that are seemingly revered in the gaming industry, Woodrum is definitely ‘old school,’ ” said Silver, a former casino executive and member of the Gaming Control Board who rooted out mob influence before Wall Street invested in casinos. “Statistics and surveys aside, his understanding of the ‘gambler’ and what motivates him is very astute.”

Online gambling legislation isn’t expected to pass for at least the next two years.

Woodrum doesn’t know what will happen if and when Internet gambling is legalized and regulated, but he’s resigned that it’s coming.

And he suspects it will usher in a new era where Web casinos — unlike today’s popular, although black-market online poker rooms — will become as promoted as major retail chains.

“More people are going to lose more money,” he says. “The big companies think if people gamble on a computer, they’ll want to go to (Las Vegas). Maybe they’re right. On the other hand, if you lose on the Internet you might have less money to spend at the other place.”

And about his customers who can ill afford to gamble? “I think it’ll be a little too tough for people to handle.”

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  1. John Woodrum is a rare Casino owner who is telling it like it is.. Respect..

  2. Some people simply cannot live in "Sin City." Those who cannot control a gambling problem and/or an alcohol addiction do not do well in a 24/7 environment such as "Lost Wages." They should consider Hawaii or Utah.

  3. Isn't it amazing what you can learn by being on the floor verses being behind a big desk up in an ivory tower?

  4. Shake my head when playing roulette with $100 and see person after person lose, go to cash machine, come back to table, lose, back to cash machine..rinse and repeat over and over.

    You go into a casino hoping to win (I'd rather go with a mindset of hoping to win rather than expecting to lose) but if you have a brain in your head you realize the odds are stacked against you. These places weren't built on winners. I'm still amazed at the amounts people will play. $100-$200 per spin on roulette and they look like they couldn't put two nickels together.

    This is the worst town in the world if you have any type of addiction.

  5. 80-20 20% of the gamblers lose 80% of the money.

  6. Casino owner? The guy owns a big bar. A "casino" has hotel rooms and other things to do than gambling. Sheesh...

  7. Dave says: "The guy owns a big bar. A "casino" has hotel rooms and other things to do than gambling. "

    He owns a casino, RESORTS have hotels and other things to do besides GAMBLING. Casinos are for GAMBLING.

    On line gaming is here to stay. The U.S. needs to find a way to make it legit and tax it as they do most everything else. Right now U.S. taxpayers are spending BILLIONS that is going out of the country with on line gaming.

  8. Never really been to the Klondike but drove by there many times. Must check it out next time to find out if it's true that they have very good dining specials for low cost customers. I am sure they get quite a few Sahara customers checking out the neighborhood....
    After they closed the Holly Cow Casino the Klondike probably got some extra market share.

    From Switzerland

  9. Nednougat your pre-judgement of people is disturbing. If people wish to smoke when they gamble and are attracted by $1.99 dinner coupons then who are you to judge them as "White Trash?"
    I do not smoke and never have. I like staying at "The Bellagio" when in Vegas but that does not make me a better human being than anyone else.

  10. I think some Vegas based land line casinos are already operating somewhat with internet betting, such as ipod apps for sports wagers. Station Casinos and the M seem to have something going on in this regard.
    Anyway, I don't really think that any new changes will have a big impact on live gaming, as brick and mortal casinos are still different from this online world.

    From switezrland

  11. nodnougat
    Thanks for reminding me . The funny typing was before I could check how to write my country correctly ....

    Had I known that I could find a female friend at the Arizona Charlies on Boulder, I would have gone there. Will be back in April. Must check out that place. Hopefully they're not all complete trouble women looking for a walking wallet....Can you confirm that there's some quality lady available from time to time ? :D

    From Switzerland

  12. (matty) "you can be sure that the Republicans, who have exported our nation's jobs and manufacturing sectors, will embrace internet gambling. Money talks --- and the casino owners talk loudly to their Republican friends in the Congress."

    You need to know who is for it and who is not, your comment is way off (and I wish it was not)

    I am one of the biggest sponsors of online gambling, I have been investing in it for over 17 years. (gambling properties dot com)

    It is the right thing to do to legalize it, we are losing out on $$$ to all the oversees companies.

    WAKE UP!!!
    People are playing anyways, lets do it with regulations.