Gambling measure goes to floor

Posted: Sunday, May 01, 2005

A Juneau business owner told a group of lawmakers Friday that he supports a bill that would legalize poker rooms in Alaska.

"Card games are entertainment and more entertainment is needed in the state, not just for locals but tourists who visit," said Ethan Billings, owner of Marlintini's Lounge and DocWaters Bar and Grill.

Billings is the second bar owner in Juneau to show an interest in House Bill 272 now that it has survived much of the lawmaking process. Managers from the Viking Lounge and Billiards said in early April they support the bill, too.

On Friday, the House Finance Committee moved the bill to the floor for a vote, possibly this week. The Senate's version of the bill, Senate Bill 165, is scheduled for hearing in the Judiciary Committee.

For large cities, the bill allows one establishment per 30,000 people, which means one could open in Juneau. Billings did not want to comment on plans to apply for the license.

Applicants would pay a start-up fee of $25,000 and then annual taxes on the tables at $10,000 each. An establishment could hold as many as 15 tables.

The house is not to take a rake of the winnings or play a hand at the tables, but instead can charge fees per game.

Sponsors of the bill said the popularity of the game has skyrocketed and there is great demand for public poker rooms.

"Due to this growth and interest, HB 272 intends to allow these games to be played in a tightly controlled environment," said Mike O'Hare, aide to Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, sponsor of the House bill.

Legislators also heard from an opponent of the bill, Chip Wagoner with the Alaska Catholic Conference.

"The state does not have the money that it will be willing to spend to fund the necessary programs to deal with all of the problems that will flow out of the expansion of legalized gambling in this state," he said.



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