A push is underway to bring video poker and a state lottery to Alaska.
Republican leaders in the state House are pointing to a new poll as evidence that Alaskans are interested in more gambling, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
"This latest poll shows that Alaskans have basically changed their attitude," said House Speaker Pete Kott, a Republican from Eagle River.
But less than half the people surveyed by the recent poll supported video gambling initially. It was only after the pollster read them pro-gambling information that support for video gambling jumped to almost 60 percent.
"They're just using false information to get the answer that they'd like," said Anchorage Democratic Rep. Harry Crawford, who opposes gambling in Alaska.
The gambling issue was debated in the Legislature last spring. Proponents said it would help with the state's budget problems without taxes or tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund. Opponents argued it would bring on expensive social ills.
Kott and Anchorage Republican Rep. Mike Hawker, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, are touting the poll to bolster their arguments that lawmakers should consider gambling expansion.
Crawford said the poll is "the first volley" from gambling advocates looking to get it through the Legislature this winter.
The Alaska Cabaret, Hotel and Restaurant Retailers Association, which includes bars that would benefit from video poker, paid for the telephone poll, which was done by Ivan Moore Research of Anchorage. It included responses from 468 Alaskans from around the state.
Pollster Moore said he thinks the results show "a fairly significant and some might say fairly surprising" level of support for expanding gambling in Alaska, especially through a state lottery.
Kott said he has conducted polls in his own district that showed less than half of the people wanted more gambling. But the new poll shows 67 percent of Alaskans favor a lottery. And the way Kott reads the results, more than half want video poker, he said.
The telephone poll asked people twice if they support "legalizing electronic gaming," which means video poker or other games. The first time, about 45 percent of those polled supported it strongly or at least mildly. The second time, the level of support for electronic gaming jumped to 59 percent when the following statement was made:
"Experience in other states has shown electronic gaming to be an effective, efficient method of generating revenue, with a minimum of social problems."
The pollster also told respondents that video gambling could raise "upwards of $100 million to the state." Alaska bar owners claim that it could, based on Oregon's experience. But Alaska state officials predict that it would be more like $30 million.
The state projects that a lottery might bring in $1.3 million to $6.3 million each year. Kott said he thinks it would be more.