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Gambling Hall Propsal Divides California Farming Town

July 20, 1992

FOWLER, Calif. (AP) _ A proposal to build a 40-table poker casino has bitterly divided this small raisin-farming town, where some say the gameroom will bring badly needed jobs and others say it will draw crime and congestion.

Voters go to the polls Aug. 4 to decide whether to allow the card room and risk disrupting a lifestyle long regulated by the noon train whistle and the grape harvest. California leaves approval of card rooms up to local authorities.

Proponents say the casino proposed by Los Angeles businessman Michael J. Schrieber would bring in 300 jobs and licensing tax revenue. Also, Schreiber is offering a new restaurant, fire station, youth center, senior center and three more police officers for the five-member force.

″I’m a Christian. I don’t believe in playing cards,″ said Al Cole, owner of an auto parts store. ″But if we don’t find a way to bring in more cash, you can kiss this dargurn town goodby.″

Opponents say the price is too high.

″My husband gambles every day. He’s a farmer. When he throws the grapes on the ground next month, he’s betting it’s not going to rain,″ said Claudia Ahlberg. ″That’s all the risk we need in our lives. With two teen-age boys, we don’t need to worry about a 24-hour casino in town.″

Schreiber proposed the casino a few months ago and says, if Fowler rejects it, he will take it five miles south to the rival town of Selma, which is large and prosperous by comparison.

All but one of the city council members and the police chief in Fowler, a town of about 3,600 six miles south of Fresno, favor the casino.

″I’d love to have a restaurant in town and a banquet hall and youth center too,″ said Jane Bedrosian, the only council member to oppose the plan. ″But I’m not willing to sell out to a casino. This town’s in good shape. We’ve got a half-a-million-dollar surplus and you can still go to sleep at night without locking your doors.″

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