OPINION: The importance of protecting Alaska’s charitable gaming

Saturday, February 1, 2020 - 13:45

I was recently asked to support and join the board of directors for a new nonprofit organization. The name of the group caught my attention because it’s an industry near and dear to my heart.

The Alaska Charitable Gaming Alliance was formed following a meeting I attended back in October 2019 when nonprofit organizations sent representatives to meet and dialogue on the growing threats to charitable gaming. Specifically, the most discussed issue at the meeting was the local Village of Eklutna’s efforts to secure licensing from the federal government to open a casino in the Municipality of Anchorage.

I’m opposed to any casinos, poker-card rooms or slot machines in Alaska — and for good reasons. I agreed to join ACGA as a director. It’s an advocacy that matters.

I’ve lived in Alaska over 45 years. My wife and I raised our family here. We are deeply faith-based along with our adult kids and grandkids. I’m a former pastor with a Bachelor degree in the pastoral field, combat veteran with a tour of duty in the Vietnam War under my belt, and a proud member of the building trades. Admittedly, I’m a conservative-leaning businessman with both a construction company and a cleaning service franchise business in several Alaska cities.

Community service matters to me. I was just honored by receiving the Alaska State Home Builders Association’s 2019 “Builder of the Year” Award because of my support of the industry and board memberships on both the state and Mat-Su chapters. I work hard and donate where it can benefit Alaskans. This commitment and the loss of my brother Larry Carr, who died in the line of duty as an Alaska State Trooper in 1974, are why I also serve on the Alaska Police & Fire Chaplains Ministries and support the Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers and Law Enforcement Museum where Larry’s photo is displayed.

Listing my biography isn’t to boast or toot my own horn, but actually to give a detailed background on what I value and where I have tried to support my fellow Alaskans so there’s perspective.

The Alaska charitable industry has been around for decades. It’s a very straightforward system state lawmakers crafted that benefits statewide charities and gives millions of dollars back to the State for government services. The system and process are so efficient that I’m surprised more states don’t copy our model. Huge dollars go to nonprofits that support veterans, those injured and disabled, domestic violence victims, youth, and homeless needing food and shelter. The list is so broad that I guarantee you, your family, and your friends, are touched by charitable gaming proceeds. It’s endearing and impactful.

So, what’s the big deal with building a local casino and enticing Alaskans away from pull-tabs and safe, secure bingo parlors? Well, there are lots of reasons.

In Eklutna’s case, you have a neighboring community council in Birchwood that has opposed the casino as going against the area’s comprehensive plan. The limited number of charitable gaming establishments are already feeling the strain of economics, and that means less proceeds to nonprofits and the State. Charitable gaming operators and employees certainly don’t want private-sector competition that undermines their cause and efforts. My guess is the public safety community wouldn’t desire the bling of a casino in Anchorage, or even Mat-Su for that matter. Add in addiction — which is prevalent with casinos but minimal-to-nonexistent with charitable gaming, and the threat of corruption and organized crime sniffing around for opportunities … Pretty soon we have a mess on our hands. I’d also venture to guess the lion’s share of churches would oppose the opening of a casino here.

I won’t speak to the legal arguments for or against an Alaska Native-owned casino, but I am aware the State of Alaska now opposes Eklutna’s federal case to force allowance to build a casino. If the Department of Law opposes Eklutna’s casino, that’s instructive.

In the case of the Alaska Police & Fire Chaplains Ministries, our charitable gaming proceeds help fund services and equipment that afford our 100-plus chaplains across the state (who work for no compensation) the opportunity to counsel grieving family and friends who lost a child to suicide or accident; a tourist whose loved one was injured or died on a trip here; a patient at a hospital who may need support and comfort; an injured law enforcement officer or fire department professional who is injured — or upon perishing has a family that needs responsive, loving support. Organizations like APFCM, and those they thoughtfully serve, will be the losers if a casino opens. What a tragedy.

Alaska is blessed with an effective, functioning system of charitable gaming. It’s properly regulated, enforced, and benefits tens of thousands of people. Ours doesn’t undermine values or community integrity. We live in a state that has a policy and implementation that work. Many states can’t say the same and we should be thankful to previous state lawmakers who had the vision to enact such a fruitful program.

Please let your local, state and federal lawmakers know you oppose anything other than our current charitable gaming laws. We don’t want casinos in Alaska. They will only undermine a system that is working, while harming valued charities and their benefactors dependent on the financial support of generous Alaskans who donate through recreation.

Rich Carr has lived in Alaska over 45 years and serves on the board of directors of several nonprofit organizations, including the Alaska Charitable Gaming Alliance.

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