Regulation of online gambling to be handled by a Commission or the politicians?

InfoPowa readers may recall a story three years back in which the governor of Alaska convened a task force to look at whether a gaming commission should be established. The conclusions reached by the task force were interesting in that it recommended that online gambling be regulated in the state; that illegal gambling be more vigorously prosecuted, but that the power to expand gaming should remain with the Legislature.

Fast forward to 2008, where the Anchorage Daily News reports that voters will be asked this week whether they want to create a Gaming Commission within the Alaskan Department of Revenue, hopefully halting the bitter rivalry between pro- and anti-gambling forces.

Under the proposal, a seven-member commission would have authority to expand gambling by allowing slot machines, poker rooms, lotteries or any form of waging game. This impinges seriously on the turf of the politicians, who have hitherto held that power but have been bogged down by arguments about what is and is not acceptable, with the involvement of passionate debate from all shades of public opinion.

The seven members on the commission would be appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature. The five voting members would serve staggered terms of five years. Only three would be needed for a quorum.

Supporters of creating the commission through Ballot Measure 1 say clear decisions allowing more gambling will attract tourists, keep revenue in-state that is now going to Nevada or to online gambling sites, and possibly create jobs and provide additional money to the state coffers through new taxes.

"There's a lot of money involved, and it should stay here," lawyer Ken Jacobus, who helped write the initiative for the group Alaskans for Gaming Reform, told the ADN. "I'm voting yes because I think it's good for the Alaska economy."

Bar owners, as primary funders of Alaskans for Gaming Reform, are leading the campaign for the ballot measure's passage. Darwin Biwer, chairman of Alaskans for Gaming Reform and owner of the Anchorage bar Darwin's Theory, spearheaded the initiative. He said people are running raffles and taking huge "salaries" in the name of charity. "There is no one watching the henhouse," he claimed.

However, state revenue officials said that creating a commission within their department does not crack down on illegal activity. The department has jurisdiction to deal only with licensing issues, not criminal matters, and the ballot measure wouldn't change that.

Over a thousand charities, cities, education groups and other non-profit entities currently benefit from gaming in Alaska, mostly through pull tabs, bingo and raffles, the ADN reports. The $350 million industry raises $32 million for these every year, according to 2006 numbers from the Department of Revenue.

Opponents say gambling can lead to such serious societal ills as child neglect, divorce, bankruptcies and debt-driven crimes. Only lawmakers should have the power to expand it, they say.

Interestingly, the proposal does not appear to have found favour with the state's Tax Division, which currently oversees state gambling activities.

Johanna Bales, deputy director of the division told the newspaper: "This commission is given very broad power under this initiative, so you would have three individuals potentially who could decide what types of gaming can take place in the state up to a full-blown casino. There's nothing in here that sets any kind of parameters as far as I can tell."

One of the few details in the initiative says the commission could not allow more than five gaming machines, such as a slot machine, within one location before December 31, 2012. After that date, no more than 20 gaming machines will be allowed at a bar or other location.

“members on the commission would be appointed by the governor and approved by the Legislature”

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