California Cardroom Owner Kyle Kirkland Running for Congress

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Kyle Kirkland (pictured) is the owner of Fresno’s Club One Casino cardroom and president of the California Gaming Association. This week, he announced he will be running to be California’s 20th Congressional District Representative in 2024.

There is a crowded field to replace long-term U.S. Rep Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who left Congress on December 31, 2023, after 17 years at the Capitol.

Kirkland thinks that his 15 years of experience as a California employer and businessperson makes him a fresh candidate after nearly two decades of representation by career politician McCarthy.

“If there was ever a time where Congress needed new thinking and someone who is action-oriented and looking for change, it’s now,” he said, speaking on local outlet KMJ this week.

The first 2024 primary ballot will be on March 5. Kirkland’s competitors include California Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield), who has long been touted as McCarthy’s favored successor.

Kirkland’s Career and Club One Casino

Prior to joining the California casino business, Kirkland was the chairman of famed piano makers Steinway Musical Instruments for 18 years.

In 2008, he purchased the Club One Casino in Fresno, the only such gambling venue in the city of half-a- million people.

Over the years, Kirkland has expanded the cardroom venue as much as possible within California’s tight rules. During this time, there have been various court battles over the legality of certain games, and a 20-year moratorium issued on new cardroom licenses.

Currently, Club One Casino operates 51 table games, putting it as one of the larger California poker rooms. It also offers three bars and a 24-hour restaurant.

The most recent expansion in 2021 actually moved the casino a few blocks away, taking over a previously existing nightclub facility. It brought the venue to a size of 30,000 square feet and added 20 table games for the current total of 51.

Political Goals

Politically, Kirkland has previously expressed no particular support for either main party. However, in 2024 he will be running as a Republican in what is historically one of the most conservative areas of California.

He has said his main campaign priorities are bringing down the cost of living and boosting the California economy. He says his long years of local experience living and doing business in Fresno and Los Angeles, make him more qualified on these issues than a career politician like his opponent, Fong.

Fong himself was recently cleared to run for reelection in in the California Assembly, as well as the U.S. Congress.

A Superior Court Judge ruled in his favor in December 2023, and an appeal against that decision from the state Secretary was rejected this week.

Kirkland says the controversy made him more determined to put himself forward.

“I felt like this was an opportunity for a noncareer politician to get involved,” he said.

Throughout his career, Kirkland has also made various philanthropic donations and served as president of the California Gaming Association. In 2023, he gave the largest donation ever to Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo. The exact amount was unspecified, but the zoo said it was more than a million dollars.

He also runs the Kirkland Foundation, which contributes to various animal welfare programs in California.

McCarthy Out

Whoever wins Kevin McCarthy’s seat in the House of Representatives will have big shoes to fill. McCarthy was House Minority Leader for the GOP for three years, and then Speaker of the House for seven months.

In late 2023, he agreed to work with Democrats on some key issues to avoid a government shutdown, leading to intense criticism from sections of his own party. This eventually led to his resignation from the roles of Speaker and Representative.

McCarthy, 58, says he plans to continue his political work away from the capital, aiming to help up-and- coming Republicans or newcomers seeking office.

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