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Senators to debate proposed casino ban | Guam News

“We must not lose focus on the meaning of Liberation Day, the reason for our celebration.” – Sen. Telena Nelson

Lawmakers are expected to decide this week whether it’s time to vote on legislation that would ban casino-style gambling in carnivals and during fiestas.

Last week, the legislation Sen. Telena Nelson introduced, Bill 50, was reported out of the Finance and Taxation committee that reviewed it. This means if Nelson gets the minimum of eight votes to put it on the agenda for the legislative session that starts tomorrow, her proposal could be up for a vote in a matter of days.

A decision on the legislation presents a sense of urgency because a warehouse-style building is being built at the Paseo de Susana Park in Hagåtña to house a casino concession as part of this year’s Guam Liberation Carnival, unless the bill becomes law and applies to this year’s carnival casino.

The Mayors’ Council of Guam, through its nonprofit partner the Guam Liberation Historical Society, is in charge of the carnival and has promoted the operation of a casino at the annual liberation carnival. The council also supports casino operations during village fiestas as a way to raise cash.

Certain members of the community through written testimonies have voiced support for the proposed ban.

One of the commenters, Gerhard Schwab, a professor of social work who chairs the University of Guam’s Division of Social Work, is among those who support the proposed casino ban, not only from the annual carnival, but also from village fiesta celebrations.

“In recent years, operators of casino gambling have increasingly used village fiestas to get permission to run their gambling operation,” Schwab stated, in his written testimony on Bill 50. “It is important to note that the casino is operated in a semi-permanent building on (Liberation Carnival) grounds, not in temporary structures in village communities.

“The people who operate and make profit from the casino and the people who gamble have very little or no relations with the village communities in which fiestas are celebrated. Village fiestas are religious celebrations to give thanks and to honor village patron saints; village fiestas should not be used as excuses for time-limited gambling permits to casino operators.”

‘We must not lose focus’

Sen. Nelson is pushing for approval of her legislation from a public safety perspective, saying casino gambling sparks robberies. She also thinks holding a casino at the carnival grounds is not the proper way to celebrate Guam’s liberation from World War II atrocities.

“We must not lose focus on the meaning of Liberation Day, the reason for our celebration,” she said. “With the end of the Japanese occupation, we must honor and appreciate the sacrifices of our people, our return to a true democracy – a democracy that respects and represents the interests of the public.”

San Agustin not for ‘piecemeal’ bill

Sen. Joe San Agustin, chairman of the Committee on Education, Finance and Taxation, said his committee reported Bill 50 out of committee last week.

San Agustin said, speaking as a senator and not as committee chairman, he doesn’t favor the “piecemeal” approach of Bill 50, which specifically addresses casino gambling at the Liberation Carnival and fiestas.

If Guam were to take a stand against all forms of gambling, the decision must be done on the ballot so voters can decide through a referendum, he said.

Guam did vote previously against casino gambling, through a referendum, but San Agustin said that was specific to a proposed casino operation at the former Guam Greyhound racetrack.

There are other forms of games of chance in Guam, including at game rooms, the cockpit in Dededo, at arcades that cater to children and even at gas stations that allow people to spend money for a chance to win prizes, he said.

Game rooms alone generate revenues of $25 million a year, he said.

All aspects of gambling should be reviewed comprehensively before a referendum on gambling takes place, he said.

At this point, San Agustin said he’s more concerned about how to ensure the government closely monitors gambling activities so they’re taxed properly, rather than approaching gambling through legislation that addresses specific types of gambling piece by piece.

‘Reverse a culture of recklessness’

Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, with the Archdiocese of Agana, also wrote to the legislature to express the archdiocese’s support for the proposed casino ban because of gambling’s “proven capacity to destroy” individuals, families and entire communities.

“Our priests counsel individuals and families who have lost money, possessions, even marriages and most of all, their peace and dignity because they could not resist gambling’s devastating enticement,” Byrnes said. “They come to our doorsteps broken.”

Byrnes called the legislation “a bold move to reverse a culture of recklessness and obsession which we see has been growing on our island.”

Yigo Mayor Rudy Matanane wrote to the legislature that there are other gambling facilities on the island that are affecting families, but the government continues to allow them to operate.

“If ‘casino gambling’ is to stop, then all forms of gambling should be ceased to prevent the disruption of ‘family values,'” he wrote.

He said having “occasional casino gambling is a form of income for our districts.”

Mayors’ Council President and Agana Heights Mayor Paul McDonald said last week if the casino is banned from the carnival, he will recommend that the carnival be canceled because the carnival operates using money from the casino.

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