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Gaming Regulation for Alaska?

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor

               Three years after Alaskan officials introduced the idea of establishing an intrastate Gaming Commission that would regulate online casino gambling, the decision has been put in the peoples’ hands. This week voters will decide whether or not they wish to incorporate the Commission into the Alaskan Department of Revenue.

                If voters favor the idea of a regulatory body a seven-member commission, appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature, would be given the ability to expand online casino gambling by permitting the use of slot machines, poker rooms, lotteries and other forms of gaming. Five of the seven members would vote on online gambling issues and just three would be required to reach a quorum. In doing so, the U.S. legislators that have prohibited such activity, arguing the immoral and addictive nature of online gaming, would hold no clout in Alaskan casinos.

                Those supporting Ballot Measure 1 have stated that regulated gambling establishments would promote more tourism within the state and create more job opportunities, while sharing a portion of the taxed revenue that is now going to Nevada and online casinos.

                “There’s a lot of money involved, and it should stay here,” says Ken Jacobus, a lawyer who wrote some of the initiative for Alaskans for Gaming Reform. “I’m voting yes because I think it’s good for the Alaska economy.”

                Pub owners, who predominately fund the Gaming Reform group, head the campaign for Ballot Measure 1. Darwin Biwer, owner of the bar Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage and chairman of the reform organization has put all of his efforts into the initiative. According to Biwer, many pub owners are holding huge charity raffle events to raise money for the campaign. “There is no one watching the henhorse,” he observed.

                Unfortunately for Alaska, however, not everyone is on board with the idea of legalized gambling. State revenue officials claim that such a commission would not affect the levels of illegal gaming activities as it would only involve licensing issues. The overplayed argument that gambling can cause divorce, child neglect, bunktruptcies and debt-driven crimes has also been made, as officials claim that only lawmakers should have the authority to expand it.

                                That being said, the Department of Revenue shows that Alaskan state gambling like pull tabs, bingo, raffles and lotteries have contributed $32 million to charities, cities and educational groups annually.

                Alaska’s Tax Division, currently regulating gambling activities, feels that this is too much responsibility for just seven members. Johanna Bales, deputy director of the division stated, “This commission is given very broad power under this initiative, so you would have three individuals potentially who could decide what types of gaming can take place in the state up to a full-blown casino. There’s nothing in here that sets any kind of parameters as far as I can tell.”

                The initiative gives the stipulation, however, that no more than five gambling machines would be allowed in a single location until after December 31, 2012. Following that time, the limit will increase to 20 gambling machines.