Could law open door to gambling in Southeast?

Posted: Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A new proposal passed by the state House of Representatives Monday would allow cities of 150,000 or more to establish legalized casino gambling.

With no Alaska city outside Anchorage approaching that size, Southeast would not likely deal with the issue soon. But some say a legal challenge could undermine the largest city's exclusive right, and lawmakers could change the size requirement later.

That would be a problem for Juneau and Southeast, said Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat who voted against the measure.

"I've consistently been against gambling, mostly because I don't think it raises any money," Kerttula said. "The statistics from other states like Georgia and California show that it really doesn't bring in much money."

Kerttula said opening a casino in Anchorage would probably have little effect on Southeast. She said she thinks someone will bring a lawsuit if the proposal becomes law.

The provision allowing a casino in one community and not another raises equal-protection issues and questions of whether a single casino would constitute a monopoly in the state, she said.

"I really didn't hear any good reasons given why it should happen only in Anchorage vs. anywhere else," she said.

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, a Juneau Republican who voted in favor of the measure, said he would "probably not" vote for opening a casino in Juneau. Weyhrauch this weekend voted against the casino proposal but changed his vote on Monday when the bill came up for a second vote.

Weyhrauch said he changed his mind after the House accepted his amendment allowing Anchorage to hold a public vote on the issue.

He said casino gambling already is happening in Alaska, but the state hasn't gotten a cut of the revenue.

"I think that very few people realize it or really even care that cruise ships that come into port in Juneau have huge, million-dollar casinos in them and no one's moving to regulate those or tax the cruise ships," he said. "To me, we've got blinders on. This one's on shore and we might get some money out of it."

Rep. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, who also changed his vote on the bill, said he doesn't support the casino but that the people of Anchorage should get a chance to vote on the proposal.

"I want to be consistent in my message that people in the state of Alaska should make the final decision," he said.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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