Legislature(2003 - 2004)
01/29/2004 08:01 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 ordered. 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 years. 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 opinion. 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 definition." Number 0554 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM asked if Ms. Huber would have any objection to the Tanana Valley State Fair [being included in the legislation]. 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 questions. 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 races]. 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.