State: Senior-citizen pinochle for cash is illegal

SNOHOMISH, Wash. -- A friendly game of pinochle landed a group of Snohomish County senior citizens in hot water.

It turns out the nickels and dimes they waged in the game violated city law and the state has threatened to pull the senior center’s gaming permit if they didn’t stop.

The state gambling commission allows ‘social card games’ at the Snohomish Senior Center, however, the city had outright banned them since 2009.

“We’re socializing is what we’re doing,” said card player Diane Huffman. “It’s no big deal I mean you win $2 or $3.”

Executive director Bob Dvorak said the center provides important outreach to a community that often finds itself alone.

“It keeps them from being isolated,” said Dvorak. " They’re in for the nutritious meal and they have social skills; they see their friends, they see the staff.”

But last year when the center re-applied for their gaming permit; the state said the center was violating a Snohomish City ordinance because they were playing for cash money.

Unless the ordinance changes, the state will deny the center’s permit.

“The laws just didn’t mesh,” said Dvorak. “Each of them was doing what they thought was right.”

For now, the city says the games have to stop by April 30. But if seniors can’t play for pennies, Dvorak worries they might not come at all.

“We want them in a safe, fun environment where they’re surrounded by their friends and colleagues,” Dvorak said.

The seniors say they don’t want to play with fake chips, they want to play for real money – they say it’s just more fun that way.

The city council is considering changing the ordinance that will allow non-profit organizations to have ‘social card games.’

Council could vote on it at their next meeting on Feb. 18.