Alaska editorial: Initiative is an attempt to expand gambling

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

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Alaskans for Gaming Reform has submitted 50,405 signatures to the state Division of Elections to put an initiative on the 2008 primary election ballot to create an Alaska Gaming Commission. Fine.

Both the Legislature and a state gaming task force have rejected gambling expansion proposals in recent years. Backers of more gambling in Alaska - video poker, lotteries, casinos or legal poker tables at popular watering holes - argue that lawmakers are out of touch with a majority of Alaskans on the issue.

That's fine, too. Put the question to the voters and we'll see.

But please don't argue that this initiative is not an attempt to expand gambling in Alaska, and please don't tell us that it's about law enforcement. That's the line offered by Darwin Biwer, owner of the Anchorage bar Darwin's Theory and head of Alaskans for Gaming Reform.

Yes, he said, an Alaska Gaming Commission would have the authority to expand gambling in Alaska. But that's not his intent. He said his intent is to provide law enforcement.

Better fold that hand; it's a bluff that won't play.

Here's what the initiative says in its "findings and purpose" for creating a commission:

• "Attract additional tourists to Alaska because the activities available to them will increase." You can bet the backers aren't talking about more bingo.

• "Provide new economic development as a sustainable industry." Words like "new" and "industry" suggest there's more afoot here than sharper policing of pull-tabs.

• "Provide additional potential sources of revenue to support programs such as education, transportation, fish and wildlife management, and operation of state and local governments." What's that mean, if not more gambling opportunities? This is the carrot, the popular appeal to civic virtue.

• "Help protect the Permanent Fund." This one could gag Bugsy Siegel. Can you see it? A campaign poster with the ghosts of Jay Hammond, Hugh Malone, Oral Freeman and Dave Rose playing video poker with one hand and clutching a dividend check with the other. Sure, Alaskans for Gaming Reform wants to protect your dividend. They want it for their tills.

Alaskans will figure out in a hurry that this initiative is about one thing and one thing only: expansion of gambling in Alaska. Video gambling, casino gambling, poker tables and anything that fetches a sure buck for the house and maybe seduces those inclined to bet.

Please, let's not try to pass this off as reform or better law enforcement. Sell it for what it is, a call to Alaskans to place their bets in more venues with more games, with those in the bar and entertainment business ready to profit.

Alaska has a reasonable level of gambling now, one that is manageable within current charitable gaming laws and carries much less negative baggage than the social ills that come with full-blown gaming. If Alaskans want more, they'll say so. But let's be clear that a vote for this commission is a straight shot to more state-sanctioned gambling in Alaska.

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