Dead soul games

Cemetery town squabbles over plans for gambling

By Lisa Crovo

Published October 3, 1996 11:59AM (EDT)

in Colma, the dead are turning over in their graves. The living in this municipality just south of San Francisco -- famous for having more dead bodies than live residents -- are fighting over a measure to allow legalized gambling in the midst of the eternally at rest.

Rene Medina, who operates gambling bus tours out of San Francisco, wants to open a 60-table Lucky Chances card club on the corner of Hillside and Serramonte boulevards, directly across the street from the Serbian Cemetery. Plans also include an entertainment stage, 24-hour restaurant, coffee shop and lounge.

This doesn't sit well with cemetery owners, particularly John Kruljac, part owner of the Serbian Cemetery -- who describes Medina and his lawyer, Michael Franchetti, as "the best-paid, greased-down, sleazy liars" who "bamboozled" the "not-so-bright voters of Colma" into signing the town's own death warrant.

Kruljac is referring to the defeat last May of Measure B, which would have banned legalized gambling in this land of the dead. If all goes according to plan, the card club, one of the largest in northern California, could be up and running by next spring.

Measure B was defeated by just 29 votes. Colma has an estimated population of 1,200, including 550 registered voters. This figure is up markedly from the 384 registered voters in late 1994 and has caused suspicion among the anti-card room forces. Kruljac and other members of the Citizens to Protect Colma accused Medina of
courting the living with empty promises of $50,000 in scholarship
money and using his Lucky Tours bus company for free
excursions to places like Monterey, Reno and the Sonoma wine country.

"The sleaze factor has already gone up considerably," according to Kruljac. "The cemetery is a prime place to cause mischief. It's a nice, dark, convenient and unwatched place." He expects to see a rise in drugs, drunkenness, vandalism and prostitution around the marble slabs once the club opens.

Franchetti insists that Lucky Chances will work closely with the Colma Police Department to keep out "undesirables." he said. "Lucky Chances will also have their own security staff," he added. Franchetti also argues that gambling will provide jobs and tax revenue in a town where the dead, who take up nearly 75 percent of the land,
pay no property taxes."

Phil C'de Baca, owner of Pet's Rest Cemetery, claims that Colma doesn't need the money. "We have more money here than we know what to do with. We paid for our senior housing in cash without any help from HUD, we have new street lamps, underground wiring, new sidewalks, we're building a community center and we gave Home Depot $2 million to get started. The town gives out box seats to the (San Francisco) 49ers and tickets to the Ringling Bros. Circus."

Colma's ample budget comes from sales tax revenue derived from its other main industry -- car dealerships. If a card room had to be anywhere, C'de Baca says, it would have been better situated near the auto showrooms.

His real preference, though: "I'd rather see it in Hell."

Quote of the day

But is he sane?

"Now we can't see your health records, Mr. President. You can see mine. I'm
very healthy. Bob Dole is healthy."

-- Presidential candidate Bob Dole, referring to Bill Clinton's alleged refusal to release all of his medical
records. (from today's New York Times).

Lisa Crovo

Lisa Crovo is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and an editorial assistant at SALON. Her work has appeared in the Boston Phoenix and SOMA magazine. She can be reached at

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