Six months after Ubet Casino in Longview closed and owner Regina Bakunowicz announced plans to reopen in a former restaurant along the Cowlitz River, the city has approved restaurant permits, but Bakunowicz still has a pile of debt and no gambling license.
At Bakunowicz’s request, the Longview City Council in December changed the zoning in the Riverfront District to allow card rooms that are in association with restaurants.
This week, the city approved Bakunowicz’s submitted plans for a restaurant in the old Charlie’s Restaurant at 1826 First Ave. on the river side of the dike along the Cowlitz River.
The contract work, to be performed by JH Kelly, is estimated to cost about $125,000, according to city documents. She has also told the city that she plans to request a card room permit in association with the restaurant, but no plans have been submitted yet, according to city officials.
Bakunowicz did not return multiple phone calls for comment.
City Manager Kurt Sacha said last week that zoning changes do not automatically guarantee that someone can open a card room.
“Just because it’s zoned for (card rooms), doesn’t mean that you get to do it. That’s up to the Washington State Gambling Commission. They’re the ones that issue the license to allow you to have gambling in your establishment. All we can do is tax it,” Sacha said.
The gambling commission has scheduled a hearing in August on whether to revoke Bakunowicz’s gambling license.
Meanwhile, Bakunowicz has applied for a new card room permit under a different corporation, Cards R’ US, Inc., which is registered with state Department of Revenue. However, a spokeswoman for the gambling commission said it would not make a decision about the application until the Ubet Casino license case is closed.
Bakunowicz also still has a pile of delinquent taxes that have continued to stack up after her businesses filed for bankruptcy in January 2017. She still owes the City of Kennewick at least $178,000 in unpaid gambling taxes from the Classic Island Casino, which closed in 2012, City Public Relations Director Evelyn Lusignan said last week. And she hasn’t made any payments since 2016 on the nearly $10,000 she owes in Cowlitz County property taxes, according to the Cowlitz County Treasurer’s Office.
At the time she filed for bankruptcy, Bakunowicz’s companies also owed $147,000 in unpaid taxes to the Employment Security Department, $41,500 to the Internal Revenue Service and $95,000 in unpaid taxes for state worker’s compensation premiums.
Ubet Casino had also accumulated $271,000 in gambling taxes to the City of Longview under the management of Bakunowicz’s ex-husband. The city has allowed her to make monthly payments of $2,000, but City Manager Kurt Sacha said Wednesday that she has not made a payment since November. She still owes $244,000, which continues to accrue interest, he said.
He added that the city would not withhold a building permit because she owes gambling back tax because the two subjects are separate and should be dealt with separately.
“Ultimately if we can’t collect, we can’t collect. But we will make every effort to see that we can,” Sacha said. “She did employ 90 people or so (at Ubet Casino). If they could transfer to the new (business) that she may embark upon here and put people back to work and help improve economic conditions here locally, that would be a good thing. But our interest is to collect that (debt) obligation.”