Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Opposition To Alaska 2008 Ballot Measure 1 To Establish Gaming Commission Beginning To Build Out Of Fear It Will Backdoor Casino Gambling

The battle between the two opposing forces behind Alaska 2008 Ballot Measure 1 is now being fought on the pages of the Anchorage Daily News. Representatives of these forces have each published an opinion column outlining their respective positions on the issue.

Before we continue, here's the specific language of Ballot Measure 1, along with the official statements of support and opposition.

- Full 24-page Text of 05GAM2 Initiative
- Statement in Support of 05GAM2 Initiative, authored by Darwin A. Biwer, Alaskans for Gaming Reform.
- Statement in Opposition to 05GAM2 Initiative, co-authored by Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council and Debbie Joslin of Eagle Forum Alaska.

Both columns were published by the Anchorage Daily News on August 19th, 2008. Darwin Biwer of Alaskans for Gaming Reform leads off with his column entitled "Measure enhances gaming oversight". Biwer stresses that the intent is to consolidate enforcement and create a common regulatory body to reduce workload on other enforcement agencies. Here's the crux of his justification:

...numerous problems plague Alaska gaming, including misuse of gaming funds and collusion in awarding prizes. Oversight and reporting of activities are spotty, and so is accounting of revenues from cruise ship gaming. Most importantly, there is a growing illegal gambling problem in the state.

Right now, Alaska lacks consistent rules and oversight to ensure the legal games are fair and clean. Enforcement of gaming laws is divided among a hodgepodge of agencies. An understaffed Charitable Gaming Division of the Department of Revenue is responsible for monitoring gaming activities. But enforcement of gaming laws falls to local law enforcement agencies and the Department of Public Safety. If they find violations, it's up to the Department of Law to prosecute.

Ballot Initiative 1 would consolidate all gaming oversight into a single Alaska Gaming Commission to make enforcement more efficient and allow the other agencies to pursue their primary responsibilities.

Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council fired back the same day. In his column, entitled "Gambling invites unwanted problems", he characterizes the initiative as a "trojan horse". Here's the most pertinent part of the column:

Here's why the Trojan Horse analogy works. Those pushing this measure have tried to expand gambling in Alaska legislatively and they've failed each time. This effort, they insist, is simply about enhanced regulation of current charitable gaming activities.

They state that Ballot Measure 1 will "only create a Gaming Commission" and that the "initiative, in itself, would NOT increase gambling in Alaska". Sounds a bit defensive doesn't it? If that truly is the case, why does Ballot Measure 1 say that "The Alaska Gaming Commission is established for the purposes of generating revenue for the state" and that the commission will have the ability to authorize gaming activities"?

They claim that the "will of the people, not the Legislature, would decide what gaming activities would or would not be authorized." Really? Three members of the seven-person commission will "constitute a quorum for the transaction of business." And what is their business? Having "the authority to allow games of chance, such as lotteries and casino games, in the future." How do three people represent the "will of the people"?

Public comments posted to this column do not indicate that Minnery is very persuasive on this issue. In addition, I believe Minnery is using the "slippery slope" theory. Although the language may be a bit murky, I'm not convinced that Alaskans for Gaming Reform are trying to use this to backdoor casino gambling into Alaska. Besides, Alaska Natives are already free to set up casinos on their own lands, so how would this measure stop them from doing so? This is probably the first time I've disagreed with Jim Minnery on a social issue, but I just don't see that much of a problem, although I am concerned about the murky language.

But the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has also weighed in, applying their editorial muscle against Ballot Measure 1 as well. In their editorial column entitled "Gambling with gambling", they oppose it primarily because they don't believe voters can read it and understand just what they're voting for. Here's an excerpt:

Ballot Measure 1 would establish a seven-member commission to decide which forms of gambling ought to be allowed in Alaska. The commission would be appointed by the governor, insulating it somewhat from public opinion, but that’s not a fatal flaw; the state has many such commissions that work well.


Ballot Measure 1 also should serve as Exhibit No. 1 in the case against making complicated laws via the initiative process. Consider section 5, titled “regulations,” which purports to outline where gaming activities may be conducted but contains layers of exceptions and conditions. The language comes as close to incomprehensible as anything one will find in Alaska law, in part because its effects appear to depend on whether voters later pass another initiative on video lottery terminals.

How can Alaskans be expected to figure out what’s being proposed here? This is why we have a Legislature — to do the difficult work of analyzing such proposals before they become law. Voting for this measure would be an ill-advised gamble.

Public comments in response to this story are almost equally split. However, most of those who support Ballot Measure 1 do not want casino gambling, but only want a state lottery or participation in the multi-state Powerball lottery.

I don't believe Alaska will be hurt by a Yes vote. Even if this commission is created, it will report to the governor, and the governor could always override its actions. We will retain the capability to prevent this commission from backdooring new forms of gambling into Alaska against our will.


  1. well very interesting i really liked the post keep up the good work :)

  2. Bennie - thanks for your response. :-D