Indecent Proposal?Published August 16, 2003 by OCR Editor
Lawmakers and state officials are working on proposals for video gambling machines and a lottery, both to help ease the state's budget problems. There is even starting to be talk about off-track betting parlors. House Speaker Pete Kott says there's a good
Kott predicts that some form of gaming will move forward in the next legislative session, which starts in January. State senators are interested in at least discussing it. The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee is talking about holding a hearing in the next couple of months on gaming issues, in advance of the January start of the legislative session.
The idea of expanding gambling in Alaska has passionate opponents both in and out of the Legislature. They blocked gambling plans in the last legislative session and are vowing to fight even harder this time.
The Alaska Department of Revenue, at the request of legislators, has launched a month long study that aims to get good numbers on how much money activities like video gambling and a lottery could bring to the state. The idea is that Alaska would join a multistate Powerball lottery.
Tom Anderson, a member of the state House, backed a bill in the last legislative session that sought to legalize video gambling machines in bars and clubs. The machines, which could include poker, keno and blackjack, would take quarters. They would return 85 percent in prizes. Of the rest, the state would take 30 percent, charities would get 30 percent and the local government in the area would get 10 percent. The Anchorage Cabaret Hotel and Restaurant Retailers Association, a group that Anderson used to work for, has pushed hard for the video gambling machines. Bar owners in the association stood to gain from the bill.
The state faces a recurring budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions of dollars and is in the midst of working up reliable numbers on gaming. But Deputy Revenue Commissioner Steve Porter said that previous talk of $40 million to the state each year from video gambling machines might be in the ballpark. Proponents have claimed a state lottery could bring in $10 million a year to the state.
A major figure in last session's fight against gambling was Tom Grey, head of a Washington-D.C.-based anti-gambling group, the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. Grey traveled the state, talking to churches, civic groups and others. He expects such organizations will mobilize to fight in the coming legislative session.
A big question mark is Gov. Frank Murkowski. He has so far pretty much steered clear of the battle over gambling, although he has "kind of expressed a general interest" in a lottery, said his spokesman, John Manly.
When the battle over video gambling raged in the Legislature last session, Murkowski said he thought it needed more study. The governor might weigh in if it looked like a video gambling bill was really moving in the Legislature, Manly said.