Alaska House Bill Would Legalize Card Rooms in Nation’s Last Frontier

Posted on: April 4, 2019, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: April 3, 2019, 12:22h.

Alaska lawmakers are considering legislation that would legalize card rooms and end the state’s longtime commercial gambling prohibition.

Alaska casino gambling card room
One Alaska lawmaker believes it’s time the state finally end its ban on commercial gambling. (Image: Stock/Getty)

Introduced last month by state Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (R-District 7), House Bill 103 would authorize commercial card rooms. Each license would cost a one-time $100,000, and gross gaming revenue (GGR) would be taxed at 9.5 percent.

HB103 will expand the gaming laws in Alaska to include operation of card rooms hosting banked and non-banked card games,” Sullivan-Leonard explained. “Card rooms in the state of Alaska have been contemplated for years, now is the time to stop contemplating and make them a reality.”

“Let’s bring the cards out of the back rooms and in a fun, social setting for all to enjoy,” she concluded.

Alaska has several small Native American gaming lounges, but commercial gambling remains illegal under state law. The bill is currently with the House Labor & Commerce Committee.

Legislation Odds

With addiction problems remaining rampant in the state, politicians have traditionally been opposed to the proliferation of so-called “sin industries” such as gambling.

Ask any Alaskan if they know someone who has struggled with addiction, and more likely than not, you’ll hear a story about how a fellow Alaskan was hurt by a substance use disorder,” the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services explained.

The state says alcohol and drug abuse is estimated to cost its citizens $3.1 billion annually, or roughly $4,000 per resident.

Sullivan-Leonard says regulated gambling would be an asset to the state. She explains that the tax revenue would be used to promote tourism and assist in economic development. The Republican adds that the card rooms would provide “a new tax stream … during these uncertain fiscal times.”

Lottery DOJ Fight

The Last Frontier doesn’t have a state lottery, but that hasn’t stopped Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson from lending his support to other states challenging the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent reinterpretation of the 1961 Wire Act.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel revealed in January that it was amending its position on the federal law. Instead of believing that the statute bans the interstate transmission of money relating only to sports betting – the agency now says it applies to all forms of gambling.

The decision threatens the future legality of interstate lottery games such as Powerball and Mega Millions. The two most popular lottery products provide billions of dollars in aid to state governments, charities, and social programs.

Clarkson, along with other state attorneys general and state lottery officials, are asking US Attorney General William Barr to dismiss the latest Wire Act opinion or provide immunity from the interpretation.

“The 2018 Opinion incorrectly interprets the Wire Act to apply beyond sports-related gambling,” the Michigan Lottery letter to Barr – signed by 15 state officials – declares. “Given the 2018 Opinion’s nationwide ramifications on government-operated lotteries and the inability of local relief to fully remedy Plaintiffs’ harms, Amicus requests that any equitable relief rendered be nationwide in scope.”