House OKs poker rooms; municipalities would let voters have final say

Posted: Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Alaska House voted Wednesday to allow poker and other card gambling in public rooms.

Municipalities may host one card room per 30,000 people, which means Juneau could hold one.

The host establishment would not be allowed to take a percentage of the winnings or collect at the table, but they could charge a per-game fee.

The managements from the Viking Lounge and Billiards and Marlintini's Lounge have expressed their support of this bill. It allows rummy, bridge and cribbage as well.

House Bill 272 was approved by a narrow margin, 23-16, due to no real alliances except for legislators who enjoy playing poker and a coalition of Democrats and Republicans opposed to the idea based on negative effects of gambling.

"Compared to liquor stores and drugs, I think this is a good habit," said Rep. Woodie Salmon, D-Beaver, as the debate began to examine the morality of gambling. "Especially on those cold winter nights."

"That's like saying it's far better to knock somebody out cold than to kill them," said Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Anchorage.

The bill's sponsor Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said people should not associate poker with slot machines, roulette and other forms of gambling.

"It's not truly gambling," said Kott, but rather a "game of skill."

Opponents claimed two small victories that may limit the bill. One amendment would allow municipalities to hold local elections on whether they want to allow card rooms.

Also, gamblers may not buy poker chips on credit.

Establishments must pay a $25,000 application fee that pays for background checks and other processing. Applicants must have no felonies on their record. They must also pay annual taxes on the tables at $10,000 each.

In a technique to speed up the process, the Senate is hearing the same version of the proposal, called Senate Bill 165. The bill is still in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The popularity of poker has surged nationwide, sparking coverage of tournaments on ESPN and Fox Sports Network.

In Seattle, houses charge about $4 per hand and can make $90 an hour; establishments are allowed to have 15 tables in the room to run 24 hours.

If 13 card rooms open in the state, an official from the Alaska Department of Revenue said they could be a $2.5 million industry in Alaska. That number doesn't include money made from food and beverages served to customers.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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