GARDEN CITY — A club in an American Legion post that has provided refuge to veterans since the 1930s will close because of a lack of money, and officials say a smoking ban and new state casino are partially to blame.
The club in the basement of the Harry H. Renick American Legion Post No. 9 in Garden City will close Saturday because it isn't making enough money to cover costs, said Donald Nevin, the Legion's commander.
The crowd began dwindling when the city imposed a smoking ban in 2007 that included private clubs such as the American Legion, Nevin said. Some of the club's Saturday night bingo players — who heavily subsidized the operation — have begun traveling to play at the Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City, where they can smoke while they gamble, Nevin said.
"That's the great hypocrisy," Nevin said. "I don't know why it's healthy to smoke in a casino but not in a club."
The post's adjutant, Jim Arwine, also cited the increasing age of the club's approximately 360 members, many of whom have mobility or health problems.
Both men said they would like to reopen the club, but that it would require the nonprofit fraternal organization to raise tens of thousands of dollars to install an elevator that would bring the club into compliance with accessibility laws.
"If we started getting more people down here, we'd get the support we need," Arwine said. "We need more people playing pool and bar games. That's where we'll make some money."
Ray Mujica, a U.S. Marine, said the closing is an insult to veterans and he blamed mismanagement.
"I feel like this is a slap in the face as a veteran," Mujica said. "You've got guys who don't know how to run this place. To me the bottom line is poor management."
Nevin and Arwine said they would welcome public comments on how to make money and reopen the bar. They are considering leasing the bar and other fundraising initiatives.
"We hope instead of being angry they'll help us come up with some realistic solutions about how to keep it open," Nevin said.
Nevin said the decision would have little or no effect on the post's programs, general membership meetings and events planned by the Auxiliary or the Sons of the American Legion.