The State House has voted to legalize card rooms where gamblers can wager against one another on poker and other games.

The 23-16 vote came about 10 p.m. Wednesday, as the Legislature worked late to wrap on its business before the adjournment for the year in six days.

The card room bill, House Bill 272, must clear the Senate before it becomes a law. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ralph Seekins plans a hearing on it today but said he was unsure whether it would make it out of his committee. There is more opposition to expanding gambling in the Senate than the House.

Still, the bill has hurtled through the Legislature so far since being introduced less than a month ago. Anchorage poker legend Perry Green, a semi-retired furrier and landlord, is pushing it with lobbyists Ashley Reed and Joe Hayes, whom Green has contracted to pay $50,000 each for their help, according to required filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Green has said he plans to open a card room in Anchorage with about 20 tables should the idea clear state and local hurdles.

The version of the bill the House passed Wednesday night requires local governments to also pass an ordinance — ratified by the majority of local voters — before any card rooms would be allowed to open within a municipality.

Bill sponsor Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said the proposal is for tightly regulated businesses where people can enjoy themselves and wager on cards.

He said poker is booming in popularity and questioned claims it would lead to social ills.

“I would submit the game of golf is more addictive,” he said.

Rep. Woodie Salmon, D-Beaver, said “little old ladies” have their bingo halls, and there ought to be card rooms for “little old men” to be able to wager.

“Compared to liquor stores and bars and drugs I think this is a very good habit,” Salmon said on the House floor. “You don’t see little old men coming back from a poker game and running off the road.”

Salmon’s amendment to allow card rooms in towns of less than 30,000 narrowly failed, though. The billy only allows the sate to issue card room licenses in boroughs with more than 30,000 people, which in Alaska means Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, Matanuska-Susitna and Juneau. Just one card room would be allowed per 30,000 residents, for a potential maximum of nine in Anchorage and 15 statewide.

Rep. Jim Elkins, R-Ketchikan, agreed with Salmon the restriction wasn’t fair. Small towns like Ketchikan, Sitka and Petersburg might want card rooms too, he said.

“They shouldn’t have to be second-class citizens and not be allowed to play poker like people in the big city,” he said.

Kott said he was worried about having too many card rooms in the state. But he said after the vote he might reconsider and open it up to smaller towns when the bill comes back before the House for the formality of reconsideration.

Opponents of the bill said the state shouldn’t support something so destructive as gambling and feared it would open the door to proposals to go further in the future into casinos, video poker and other forms of gambling.

“This is not about good clean fun,” said Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage. “It’s about greed.”

The bill would have the governor appoint a five-member “card room advisory board” that would advise the Department of Revenue. The department would decide who could get a license to operate one of the businesses. The revenue department would also set the maximum and minimum wagers on the games and how much the card room owners could charge players. The players would wager against one another, rather than the house, which means games like blackjack would not be allowed.

The bill permits poker, bridge, pan, rummy and cribbage.

The bill doesn’t set a limit on the number of tables in the card room. But the owner would have to pay a $10,000 per-table annual license fee to the state, on top of a $25,000 application fee.

Many other states have card rooms, according to the Department of Revenue, including California, Washington, Michigan and Montana.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.