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Questions put halt to Alaska gambling bill


March 31, 2006

JUNEAU, Alaska - A legislative push to legalize card rooms where gamblers can bet against each other on poker and other games hit a snag this week when members of a Senate panel laid out a laundry list of questions and concerns about the proposal.

The Senate's initial tepid response to the card-room bill, which narrowly passed the House last year, was the latest setback for proponents of expanded gambling in Alaska. Last week, a legislative task force voted against the idea of the Legislature creating a new agency to oversee and regulate gambling.

The card-room bill, sponsored by Rep. Pete Kott, R- Eagle River, passed the House 22-18 last year. It must clear the Senate before it becomes law.




The Senate Judiciary Committee picked up the bill during its meeting Wednesday but tabled it after members from both parties expressed misgivings about several key components.

"There are a lot of questions, and I can't tell you what the (committee) vote might be until we get more information," Sen. Ralph Seekins, the panel's chairman, said after Wednesday's meeting.

Seekins, R-Fairbanks, said he's personally opposed to additional legal gambling because it would lead to social ills, and he'd likely vote against the bill if it makes it to the Senate floor.

"But we're giving it a fair hearing," he said. "We want to know what people think and what this bill would do."

The bill, HB 272, which has undergone a series of changes since it was introduced last April, would establish a licensing regime for card rooms where people could play poker, pan, rummy, bridge and cribbage against each other for money.

The legislation would allow boroughs with 30,000 or fewer residents one card room. Larger boroughs would be limited to one card room for every 30,000 people.

Under the proposed fee structure, licensees would have to pony up a $25,000 application fee, a $500,000 cash bond, and $5,000 for each table.

Proponents of card rooms, including Anchorage businessman and poker champ Perry Green, who has spent at least $100,000 lobbying for it, assert that poker is a booming industry that Alaska should cash in on.

They also point to the game's growing popularity in bars, where contestants win prizes instead of cash, on the Internet and on cable TV. Legal card rooms also would help legitimize the "backroom" money games that they assert are common throughout the state.

"I know of games where policemen play for money," said Green, a well-known gambler who has competed in such major tournaments as the World Series of Poker.

The lawmakers' discussion focused more on the details of the bill than the pros and cons of gambling.

For example, Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, noted that it does not define the methods card rooms may use for charging patrons, nor does it establish rules for handling the cash that would pass through them.

"In a cash-flush environment, it'll be hard to keep track of the money," he said, noting that card-room operators might try to avoid paying income taxes.

Seekins said he also was concerned about a provision that was in the original bill that was removed. It would have allowed card rooms only in municipalities if a majority of voters endorsed the idea.

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Ketchikan, Alaska