Legislature(2003 - 2004)

01/29/2004 08:01 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 366-RAT RACING CHARITABLE GAMING                                                                                           
Number 0050                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH  announced that the  first order of  business was                                                               
HOUSE BILL  NO. 366,  "An Act relating  to rat  racing charitable                                                               
gaming; and providing for an effective date."                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON  moved  to   adopt  HB  366,  Version  23-                                                               
LS1373\D, as a work draft.   There being no objections, it was so                                                               
Number 0120                                                                                                                     
KELLY HUBER,  Staff to Representative Bill  Stoltze, Alaska State                                                               
Legislature,  testified  on  behalf  of  Representative  Stoltze,                                                               
sponsor  of HR  366.   She stated  that the  proposed legislation                                                               
would allow  the Palmer Elks  club to  continue rat races  at the                                                               
Alaska State Fair [held in Palmer].   She described the rat races                                                               
as  a game  of chance  that  has been  in existence  for over  50                                                               
MS. HUBER explained  that over the years, as  the gaming statutes                                                               
have been  amended, language  which allowed  "these games"  to be                                                               
permitted  by the  Department of  Revenue has  been inadvertently                                                               
omitted.  She added that as  far as "we" know, the omissions were                                                               
not intentional.   She said  a couple  of years ago  the attorney                                                               
general's office issued an opinion  stating that [the omission be                                                               
corrected]  or the  [rat race]  games  could not  continue.   The                                                               
proposed legislation  would fix  the omission  and allow  the rat                                                               
races to continue, she reiterated.                                                                                              
MS. HUBER noted that the proceeds  from the rat races go to local                                                               
charities.  She offered to answer questions from the committee.                                                                 
Number 0225                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH  asked if the  opinion expressed by  the attorney                                                               
general was a formal one or an informal one.                                                                                    
MS. HUBER noted that it had  been issued as a memorandum, and she                                                               
surmised that it  was an informal opinion.   She added, "However,                                                               
we  have had  discussions with  the Department  of Law,  and they                                                               
believe strongly that we need to  clarify and fix it in statute."                                                               
In response to  a request made by Chair Weyhrauch,  she agreed to                                                               
make available to the committee  copies of the attorney general's                                                               
Number 0296                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  WEYHRAUCH  asked,  "If  this   rat  race  occurred  before                                                               
statehood, would it have to be in statute?"                                                                                     
MS. HUBER noted  that [the rat race] did  occur before statehood.                                                               
She  explained  that  the attorney  general's  office  "does  not                                                               
believe that that will fix the problem."                                                                                        
Number 0409                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE LYNN  asked if  there have  been any  threats from                                                               
PETA [People  for the  Ethical Treatment  of Animals]  to boycott                                                               
tourism  in Alaska,  for  example,  if the  use  of  the rats  or                                                               
gerbils for rat racing continues.                                                                                               
MS.  HUBER replied  that there  has  been no  contact [by  PETA].                                                               
Furthermore, she stated  that there are many gerbils  used at the                                                               
state  fair, and  the gerbils  are  rotated on  a regular  basis;                                                               
therefore, it is a very humane treatment of animals.                                                                            
Number 0485                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ noted  that only rats are  listed in the                                                               
title of  the bill, while  gerbils are  mentioned in the  body of                                                               
the bill.   He offered his  understanding that they are  "not the                                                               
same critters."                                                                                                                 
MS.  HUBER answered  that  Representative  Berkowitz is  correct.                                                               
She explained that "the rat race"  has been the title of the race                                                               
run  by the  Palmer Elks  club  for years.   She  added that  the                                                               
distinction [regarding  use of rats  or gerbils] is "made  in the                                                               
Number 0554                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM asked  if Ms. Huber would  have any objection                                                               
to  the  Tanana   Valley  State  Fair  [being   included  in  the                                                               
MS. HUBER  responded that  Representative Stoltze  would consider                                                               
that as  a friendly amendment.   She noted that  "they" contacted                                                               
Representative Stoltze's office after  "this piece of legislation                                                               
was introduced."                                                                                                                
Number 0609                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked about games of chance and video.                                                                          
MS.  HUBER replied  that the  sponsor does  not intend  to expand                                                               
gaming through [HB 366]; his goal  was only to deal with games of                                                               
chance "of this nature" that have been going on for decades.                                                                    
Number 0641                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON turned to Section 4  of the bill.  He asked                                                               
for confirmation  that the idea  behind this is that  it wouldn't                                                               
open cockfights in Alaska, for example.                                                                                         
MS. HUBER answered that's correct.                                                                                              
Number 0681                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  COGHILL asked  Ms.  Huber if  she has  researched                                                               
other  places where  "groups like  this"  have been  specifically                                                               
named in statute.                                                                                                               
MS.  HUBER answered  that she  has not;  however, she  noted that                                                               
[Legislative  Legal  and  Research Services]  believes  that  the                                                               
current drafting is the best.  She  noted that there are a lot of                                                               
specifics regarding "the  exact game" in statute.   She indicated                                                               
that the name of the group is "actually the name of the event."                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL asked  if the same group  [from the Alaska                                                               
State Fair] comes up to the  Tanana Valley Fair, or whether a new                                                               
group needs to be named.                                                                                                        
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked Representative Holm  if rat racing is being                                                               
done at the Tanana [Valley] Fair.                                                                                               
Number 0758                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  HOLM offered  his understanding  that the  Tanana                                                               
Valley Fair has  held rat races in the past;  however, he said he                                                               
doesn't know who was conducting them.                                                                                           
Number 0838                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH noted  that there are pig races at  the fair that                                                               
is held in Haines.                                                                                                              
Number 0864                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ  reported that the entire  section of AS                                                               
15.56.90  is  "littered  with   specific  references  to  various                                                               
organizations across the  state."  He offered some  examples.  He                                                               
concluded, "This is your directory for fun in Alaska."                                                                          
Number 0935                                                                                                                     
MS. HUBER noted  that, should the Palmer Elks club  choose not to                                                               
continue the  rat races,  the game would  cease.   She reiterated                                                               
that  the bill  was  not  intended for  expansion,  but to  allow                                                               
something that has  been happening for decades to  continue.  She                                                               
offered her  belief that  if the  pig races  in Haines  have been                                                               
around as long  as the rat races, the sponsor  would not have any                                                               
objection [to adding them to the bill].                                                                                         
Number 0970                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON  stated his  concern regarding  the removal                                                               
of  the  language specifying  a  specific  race, because,  as  it                                                               
currently stands,  the rat race  is conducted a certain  way, and                                                               
that may  change if  that language  is removed.   He  referred to                                                               
Representative  Lynn's previous  mention of  PETA [regarding  the                                                               
question of whether  animals are ill used or not].   He clarified                                                               
that he is arguing to continue to keep the bill "very defined."                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE  LYNN  clarified  that  [when  he  had  previously                                                               
mentioned PETA] he was "just being facetious, obviously."                                                                       
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH told Representative  Lynn, "It's [an] unfortunate                                                               
state  of affairs,  though, that  what we  think of  as facetious                                                               
sometimes people  think is deadly  serious.  And who  knows where                                                               
things can go, particularly with groups like [PETA]."                                                                           
Number 1096                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ stated  that HB 366 seems  like a pretty                                                               
straightforward bit  of legislation.   He noted that  the general                                                               
section  regarding issuance  of permits  and licenses  allows the                                                               
department to issue  permits to qualified people.   He noted that                                                               
that is found in AS 15.50.100.                                                                                                  
MS. HUBER,  in response to  a question by Chair  Weyhrauch, noted                                                               
that the  rat races take place  at the Alaska State  Fair all day                                                               
long at a  booth.  The fair  runs from the end  of August through                                                               
the beginning of September.  She  reiterated that the funds go to                                                               
help local charities.                                                                                                           
Number 1217                                                                                                                     
DAVE LAMBERT, Emerald  Isle, told the committee  that he operated                                                               
the rat  race at the Tanana  Valley Fair in the  past for several                                                               
different "nonprofits."   He stated he thinks  it's important for                                                               
the committee  to understand "how we  got to this point"  and why                                                               
the legislation is needed.  He continued as follows:                                                                            
     Even though  the rat race  took place before  1959, the                                                                    
     legislators back then - when  they passed statutes that                                                                    
     allowed numbers  wheels - they  wanted to  protect this                                                                    
     type of  activity.   So, the  law that  outlaws numbers                                                                    
     wheels says, "except  where you use a  rat, hamster, or                                                                    
     other  animal."    So,  it's  clearly  defined  in  the                                                                    
     statute and allows it.                                                                                                     
     Two years ago, during the  regulation process, we had a                                                                    
     little over-[zealous] bunny hugger  that worked for the                                                                    
     department of  gaming that wanted  to do  whatever they                                                                    
     could to  stop the rat  race.  During the  process, ...                                                                    
     he tried  to introduce  regulations that would  make it                                                                    
     so restrictive that it couldn't  be done.  ... They had                                                                    
     a  statewide   committee  from  all  over   and  nobody                                                                    
     supported any  of his decisions.   When the regulations                                                                    
     finally  came  out, the  rat  race  was banned.    This                                                                    
     individual  went  to   the  attorney  general's  office                                                                    
     saying, "Hey, this is our  interpretation, can you give                                                                    
     us  an  opinion."    It's  not a  decision  -  it's  an                                                                    
     opinion.  He was trying to do whatever he could.                                                                           
     It's traditionally been ... called  the rat race.  Rats                                                                    
     aren't very exciting.  They  stand there, and then they                                                                    
     run straight  for a hole.   Gerbils  are a lot  of fun.                                                                    
     They  ... run  around, play  around, and  they want  to                                                                    
     find out what's  in the hole.  They'll go  in the hole,                                                                    
     they'll come  back -  go to  another hole;  that's what                                                                    
     they like to do.                                                                                                           
Number 1380                                                                                                                     
MR.  LAMBERT stated  that originally,  during  the Tanana  Valley                                                               
[State] Fair,  there had  been concern that  there might  be some                                                               
outcry from animal rights people.   He indicated that many animal                                                               
rights  groups  were  contacted,  but  no  objection  was  found.                                                               
During  the  fair, he  reported,  there  was  a complaint  by  an                                                               
individual,  and someone  from  the  Fairbanks Northstar  Borough                                                               
animal   control   sent  a   veterinarian   over.     The   vet's                                                               
determination was  that all the  gerbils were well cared  for and                                                               
were "doing what gerbils do and having fun."                                                                                    
MR. LAMBERT  said, "It was  one of  the major attractions  at the                                                               
fair."   He  noted that  last year,  when people  arrived at  the                                                               
fair, the number  one question was, "Where is the  rat race?"  He                                                               
emphasized that he would like to  have [the rat race] at the fair                                                               
[again], and he noted that in  addition to conducting the race at                                                               
the fair, it also used to take  place at special events.  He said                                                               
the Fairbanks Chamber  of Commerce recently contacted  him to ask                                                               
if the rat race  could be done at one of its  special events.  He                                                               
said, "Well, in the past we could have.  Now we can't."                                                                         
MR. LAMBERT  stated his  support of  HB 366.   He  suggested that                                                               
Fairbanks be  included, and  he also suggested  that the  race be                                                               
named for his  company that runs it:  Emerald  Isle.  Conversely,                                                               
Mr. Lambert  noted that  if legislation is  passed on  "the sales                                                               
tax for the  pull tabs," it will put most  of the pull-tab places                                                               
out of business anyway; therefore,  "that probably would not be a                                                               
good thing to tie a name to it  like that."  He offered to answer                                                               
Number 1499                                                                                                                     
KENNETH AXEMAKER, House Committee  Chair, Palmer Elks Lodge, told                                                               
the  committee that  his  lodge  operates [the  rat  races].   He                                                               
stated  that  he  seeks  the  committee's  support  for  HB  366.                                                               
Addressing previously  stated questions, he said  [the lodge] has                                                               
been scrutinized  by individuals and  groups who have  found that                                                               
the [gerbils used by the Elks  lodge] are treated just as well as                                                               
the ones  in Fairbanks.  He  noted that the gerbils  are returned                                                               
to  their lives  as pets  at the  end of  the fair,  in the  same                                                               
condition that they were in when they were purchased.                                                                           
MR. AXEMAKER  said the wagering that  takes place at the  fair is                                                               
in the amount  of 25 cents and  is done by adults only.   He said                                                               
it  is not  a big  money  game, but  more like  a carnival  game;                                                               
however, the funds that come from  it are "substantial."  He told                                                               
the committee that  the lodge has been involved  in this activity                                                               
since  the mid-50s.    The  volunteers who  staff  the booth  get                                                               
nothing from  it but goodwill,  he said.   The money  raised goes                                                               
entirely  to  local  charities  and  activities.    Mr.  Axemaker                                                               
estimated  that  over the  years  that  money  has "been  in  the                                                               
hundreds of thousands of dollars."                                                                                              
MR.  AXEMAKER  listed  the  activities  [that  benefit  from  the                                                               
races],  including the  following:   veterans' programs,  seniors                                                               
programs, handicap  programs, food  banks, [American]  Red Cross,                                                               
Boys and  Girls clubs,  drug awareness  programs, and  school and                                                               
youth activities,  as well as individuals  in need.  The  loss of                                                               
[rat racing]  would be devastating to  those charitable programs.                                                               
He stated  that at  a time  when public  funds for  charities and                                                               
activities are  being reduced, [the  Elks] are being asked  to do                                                               
more and more.                                                                                                                  
Number 1656                                                                                                                     
MR.  AXEMAKER,  in  response  to  a  question  by  Representative                                                               
Coghill,  clarified that  the  holes in  the  wheel are  colored,                                                               
rather than  numbered.  He said  he thinks [the Elks]  would like                                                               
to  continue  as they  have  in  the  past, although  he  doesn't                                                               
necessarily  object to  changes [in  the bill],  as long  as they                                                               
would  be helpful  and  allow  [the Elks]  to  continue [the  rat                                                               
Number 1726                                                                                                                     
LARRY  MEYERS, Deputy  Director,  Central  Office, Tax  Division,                                                               
Department of Revenue,  said he thinks the  sponsor has clarified                                                               
"most  of the  facts."   He  stated that  he thinks  the bill  is                                                               
pretty straightforward and [would]  rectify a problem that exists                                                               
in regard  to permitting.  He  said the bill makes  it clear what                                                               
the department can do.                                                                                                          
Number 1773                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH stated his intent  for the committee to develop a                                                               
conceptual amendment in  the form of a  committee substitute next                                                               
week and take action on it as soon as possible.                                                                                 
Number 1792                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON restated his concern regarding expansion.                                                                 
Number 1848                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH announced that HB 366 was heard and held.                                                                       

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