Gaming commission initiative sponsors turn in signatures

Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2006

JUNEAU - The sponsor of a plan to create an Alaska Gaming Commission says he turned in enough signatures to the Division of Elections on Monday to place an initiative on the 2008 ballot.

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Darwin Biwer, who owns the Anchorage bar Darwin's Theory and leads a group called Alaskans for Gaming Reform, said he delivered 50,405 signatures to the division.

"It took a year and $100,000, but we jumped through all the hoops," he said.

The initiative would create a commission to regulate gaming in Alaska. Gaming is now overseen by the Department of Revenue, and involves nearly two dozen games of chance and contests of skill from ice classics to bingo and pull-tabs.

The commission would be able to expand gambling in the state, although Biwer said that is not his aim.

"This is 'Alaskans for Gaming Reform,' not 'Alaskans for Gaming Casinos,"' he said. "The gaming commission would have the authority to administer, monitor, authorize and enforce all gaming activities. Right now, there is no enforcement."

Earlier this year, a legislative task force made up of lawmakers and citizens recommended against establishing a gaming commission. Among the reasons cited by the task force members was that it would present an opportunity to expand gambling in Alaska, and that problems with the industry could be addressed through changes in regulations.

The head of the task force, Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, disagreed with the decision. He wrote in a March 30 letter accompanying the report that "pervasive fallacies exist about the status and future of gaming in Alaska" and endorsing a new commission does not equate an endorsement of gaming.

Biwer said he was not put off by the task force's recommendations. The Legislature will have two sessions to pass a bill similar to his initiative if lawmakers want to keep it off the ballot, he said.

To be placed on the 2008 primary election ballot, the petition had to receive 31,451 signatures from voters, or 10 percent of the turnout of the last election.

Plus, the signatures have to come from three-quarters of the state's 40 House districts, instead of two-thirds. Within each of those districts, petitioners must gather signatures from at least seven percent of those who voted in the last election for that district to count in the total.

Biwer had a deadline of Monday to turn in the signatures.

Kelly Cyrus, the division's elections administration supervisor, said division officials will verify the signatures within 60 days.

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