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Panel holds off on creating group to oversee gaming

Members afraid public would see decision as thumbs-up to gambling

Posted: Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A legislative task force put off recommending whether an Alaska Gaming Commission should be created, with members acutely aware that an "aye" vote could be seen as an endorsement for expanding gambling in the state.

The Alaska Gaming Policy Task Force, created in the last legislative session to research the pros and cons of setting up an independent regulatory body that oversees games of chance, met Tuesday in Anchorage. It plans to meet at least once more before they are scheduled to disband in January and present its findings to the Legislature.

The group of 11 lawmakers and public members may take a vote then, but Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, suggested asking the Legislature to extend the life of the group until next March.

Members said they didn't yet have enough information on the benefits and drawbacks of a commission to make a recommendation.

Several members submitted individual lists of gaming commission pros and cons that said the public would see the creation of a commission as a tool to bring more gambling to the state.

Others members said expanding gambling was not the point of a gaming commission and thought the task force had spent too much time on the issue the five times it has met this year.

Some members at one point thought to take a poll of the room to see where the members stood on a gaming commission, but that idea was shot down.

"This is a public forum and it's not a sequestered, closed-door group," said Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak. "Anything we say, that's going to be read by the public or the media or whoever wants to spin it."

Gaming in Alaska 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.

Two proposals in the works would expand gambling: a bill held over from last session would legalize poker rooms, and a private group is trying to certify a ballot initiative to legalize video gambling in the state.

The task force so far has agreed on five needs to take back to the full Legislature, according to Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, who is chairman of the group:

• Better definitions for gaming violation penalties;

• Increased prosecution of illegal gambling;

• To look into whether Internet gambling can be regulated;

• Additional funding for investigators;

• A gaming commission, if created, would have no authority to expand gambling in Alaska. That would remain a legislative power.

The resolution is House Resolution 8.



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