Bill paves way for casino

Anchorage voters would have to OK ordinance for business to open

Posted: Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A casino could eventually open in Anchorage under a bill that passed the House on Monday, but first Anchorage voters would have to approve an ordinance allowing gambling there.

The casino bill failed to pass the House on Saturday. But the outcome changed Monday after the bill was amended to require a local vote on the issue.

Reps. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, and Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, changed their votes after the amendment was added. Rep. Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks, who was absent Saturday, also voted for the bill.

Kookesh said his support for letting citizens vote on the matter is consistent with other votes he's cast this year - including voting to put a constitutional amendment dealing with the Alaska Permanent Fund on the ballot.

"If this will go for a referendum to the people of Anchorage, fine," Kookesh said.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, argued against the amendment, saying lawmakers are elected to make tough decisions and should not try to shift that responsibility.

Others argued the issue could have statewide implications because a casino in Anchorage could eventually lead to other gambling operations around the state, so any referendum on the proposal should be statewide.

An amendment to require a statewide vote failed on a 20-20 vote.

Perry Green, an Anchorage furrier and poker player, is pushing the legislation. He wants to put a casino in the shuttered Alaska Seafood International plant, which is owned by the state.

The bill would set up an Alaska Gaming Commission, which would be allowed to license one gambling facility in Anchorage, provided local voters approve a gambling ordinance.

Opponents of the casino bill have argued it would lead to an array of social problems, while advocates say it would bring jobs and new revenue to the state.

The amended bill passed the House 22-18.

It now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to face stiffer opposition.

Senate Finance Co-Chairman Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said he did not know whether the amendment adopted Monday will soften that resistance. But he expressed little enthusiasm for shifting the decision on gambling to Anchorage voters.

"I thought that's why we're here," Wilken said.

Southeast Reps. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, were among those voting against the proposal.

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