By PAULA DOBBYN
Anchorage Daily News
August 31, 2005
Semiretired furrier Perry Green told an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce lunch audience that poker is a booming industry that Alaska should tap to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
"It's not shady," Green said. "It's a mainstream activity."
Green is a well-known gambler who has competed in such major tournaments as the World Series of Poker. In the past year, he has spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists to try to persuade the Alaska Legislature to sanction legalized gambling, according to state financial disclosures. The efforts have failed so far, but Green said Monday that he's closer than ever to having enough support to get a bill passed.
"This Legislature has matured enough to see poker as a viable business," Green said.
Last year, he pushed for legislation to establish a state gaming commission that would have had the authority to license an international casino at a failed fish plant in South Anchorage. The casino bill narrowly passed the House but died in the Senate.
Green retooled his strategy this year. He got Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, and Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, to sponsor bills that would legalize card rooms in Alaska where people could play poker, cribbage and other games for money. The bill passed the House but bogged down in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, sponsors of legalized video poker are collecting signatures to get an initiative on the 2006 fall ballot that would create a gaming commission. The panel would be able to authorize video poker, slot machines and other games without legislative approval.
On Monday, Green promoted what he considers the virtues of gambling, describing it as a billion-dollar industry that would bring the state millions in tax revenue and provide employment.
"This industry provides decent jobs," he said.
Not-for-profit card games and tournaments are a growing form of entertainment in bars, Green said.
"People are demanding it."
People play cards in their homes, and scores of illegal, underground games are held routinely, Green noted. All the legislation would do is bring into the open what's already happening and make it legal, in his view.
Cowdery, who attended the luncheon, agreed. Illicit activity often accompanies the illegal games, he said. The bill to legalize card games and impose restrictions on them would be good for the state, the senator said.
"It will take it out of the underground. This will clean up the whole thing," Cowdery said.
Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, also attended Green's talk. A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, French said he has reservations about legalized gambling and voted against the casino bill. The casino would have been in his district, and he opposed giving an exclusive gambling license to a single operator.
French said he opposes electronic gaming because the machines are addictive and mind-numbing, among other drawbacks. While he's open to the idea of card rooms, he said, he hasn't made up his mind whether he'll support Cowdery's bill.
A staunch opponent of legal, for-profit gambling is Rep. Harry Crawford, a Democrat who represents part of East Anchorage. Crawford said he watched his hometown of Shreveport, La., suffer after riverboat gambling was legalized. He doesn't want it to happen in Alaska.
"Studies show that for every dollar that we take in from gambling, we have to pay out three dollars in (social) services," Crawford said. The people hurt the most by gambling are those who can least afford it, he said, adding, "It doesn't add much to the state economy, and it takes so much with it."
Crawford said he can't imagine the Senate Judiciary Committee voting to legalize card rooms, which he described as a thinly disguised attempt to usher in casinos, electronic gaming and other forms of gambling.
While he's focused now on card rooms, Green hasn't given up on the idea of casinos in Alaska. He's also in favor of Internet gaming. Green mentioned in his talk that he recently won $18,000 playing online poker.
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