House bill would permit casino to open in Anchorage

Posted: Wednesday, April 07, 2004

A casino could open in Anchorage under a bill that popped up in the House on Tuesday.

The bill was introduced at the urging of Anchorage furrier Perry Green, who wants to buy the closed Alaska Seafood International plant from the state and open a casino there.

The bill would set up an Alaska Gaming Commission, which would be allowed to license one gambling facility in Anchorage. Green said he would submit a proposal to run that one casino if the bill passes.

Green envisions an operation that would put 1,000 people to work and raise about $15 million dollars a year for the state, he said.

"I've been to Juneau about three times in the last year talking about it and trying to convince senators and the legislators about the wisdom of doing something with the building and creating much-needed employment in Alaska," Green said.

The bill was introduced by the House Finance Committee and was referred to that committee only. That's an indication it may be primed for quick action in the House.

But Committee Co-Chairman John Harris, R-Valdez, said there's no rush to pass the bill. He just wants to hear the pros and cons, he said.

"We're going to try to get to the bottom of it and see whether it makes any sense," Harris said.

The proposal may be greeted with less enthusiasm in the Senate.

Senate President Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said he does not support the idea, but he could not say whether the bill would make it through the Senate if it passes the House.

"It's one of those things that doesn't follow partisan lines," Therriault said.

Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, has been a vocal opponent of gambling in Alaska, which he maintains will exacerbate social problems. Not all Democrats oppose the measure, though, Crawford said.

But some socially conservative Republicans don't like it, including House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole.

Green said his plan would result in $200 million in state and local taxes over the next 10 years.

Officials with the state Department of Revenue said Tuesday they had not had time to analyze the bill and do not know whether Green's estimates of potential tax revenue are accurate.

Green said he would bring in a partner with experience elsewhere in the country in gambling. He would have a school onsite to train people to work in the casino, and would also put a child care center there.

The project would cost $75 million to $100 million, he said.

He plans to buy the closed seafood plant at a price considerably above the $12 million a local developer recently offered the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority for the plant, Green said.

AIDEA Deputy Director Jim McMillan said the agency will not accept any offers until it has contracted with a licensed broker to market the plant internationally.

Before doing that, AIDEA cannot judge the market value of the 202,000-square-foot plant, McMillan said. The state invested $50 million in the plant, which closed last year.

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