Gaming action gets put on hold

Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2004

A controversial resolution that would have supported pending state legislation seeking to add the use of electronic gaming machines to the types of gambling permitted in Alaska was tabled at the request of its sponsor at Tuesday's Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting.

Resolution 2003-094 was first introduced in August by assembly member Gary Superman of Nikiski. Action was postponed, however, until after the legislative session had begun to avoid tying assembly approval to bill language that might be significantly altered by legislative committees.

The resolution sought assembly support for Senate Bill 186 and the committee substitute for House Bill 240, measures that would make electronic gaming machines legal in Alaska.

Superman expressed doubts Tuesday that those bills would become law this year.

"This is a piece of legislation that is essentially dead in the water in Juneau," Superman said.

The attention being put on the percent-of-market-value approach to handling the Alaska Permanent Fund investment and building a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope would likely mean little focus on other issues, such as the gaming legislation, he said.

"There are a lot of issues out there that are going to be left on the table this session," he said.

Acknowledging the contentiousness of gaming issues, Superman nevertheless said it was unfortunate the measure had not had an opportunity for a thorough legislative review.

"The majority of the Legislature at this point has been guided by scare tactics, scare tacticians, and, I think, some pretty base emotionalism," Superman added.

He then listed some points about gambling he said he hoped state lawmakers would consider at some time when reviewing gaming legislation.

They included that gambling was a choice, that safe levels of gambling were possible, prohibition was not realistic, there were no valid studies quantifying the social costs of gambling, only about 1 percent of the population of gamblers qualify as "problem gamblers," and the social impact "is actually small relative to the economic benefit to the state, municipalities, (gaming) licensees and nonprofits" that benefit from gaming proceeds.

Earlier in the meeting, Soldotna resident Nick Williams spoke against assembly support for the gaming legislation.

He noted a clause in the resolution expressing borough support for a balanced long-range revenue and spending plan that also urged consideration of all revenue-generating mechanisms that might lessen the impact of declining state aid to municipalities.

"You know in the state of Nevada in counties with populations of less than 100,000, prostitution is legal," he said, adding that user fees applied to the industry create additional revenue for that state.

"Should we also consider this as a source of revenue? If we are going to be cheap, we may as well be cheap and tawdry."

As for gambling, Williams said, "Just because a majority of states are gaming does not mean Alaska has to stoop to their level. It is a degenerate way to raise money."

Superman said that because the Legislature appeared unwilling to examine gambling issues at this time, there was no choice but to move to table the resolution. The assembly agreed unanimously. Tabling effectively ends discussion of the resolution indefinitely.

In other business, the assembly:

Unanimously approved Ordinance 2003-19-34, authorizing a $50,000 intergovernmental loan to the new Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service Area to provide start-up funds.

Approved Resolution 2004-021, supporting the subdivision of approximately 867 acres in the Point Possession area. The vote was a narrow 5-4 victory and drew a request for reconsideration from assembly President Pete Sprague of Soldotna, who had voted against the measure, calling a subdivision of land in the area premature.

Approved Resolution 2004-023, creating an additional projects manager position in the Capital Projects Department. The person will oversee the civil engineering portions of Central Peninsula General Hospital, South Peninsula Hospital and Seward Middle School projects.

Approved Resolution 2004-024, supporting the concept of a statewide broad-based visitor industry self-assessment tax to support tourism marketing. If the state approves such legislation, and the Legislature actually appropriates the funding to tourism marketing (the Alaska Constitution prohibits laws that dedicate funds), some of the money could be used to market the Kenai Peninsula as a tourist destination.

Approved Resolution 2004-025, establishing federal legislative and funding priorities for 2004 (fiscal year 2005).

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