Alaska ferries consider onboard slot machines for revenue boost

Alaska ferries consider onboard slot machines for revenue boost

In a bid to boost revenue for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), a bill proposing the introduction of Las Vegas-style slot machines aboard state ferries is making waves in Juneau – the capital of the Last Frontier. Jesse Sumner, Representative from Wasilla, has revived House Bill 197 (HB 197), which aims to establish a legal framework for travelers on the AMHS’ ferry boats to engage in gambling on electronic gaming machines, commonly called slots.

In spite of facing several hurdles last year, Rep. Sumner is quite optimistic about the potential tax benefits that slots could generate for the AMHS, which is currently operating at a loss. The state representative emphasizes that the introduction of electronic gaming on ferries could make a substantial contribution to revenue through fees, taxes etc., just like to land-based casinos. He envisions a positive impact on Alaska’s economy by attracting new tourists and stimulating regional growth through reinvestment of gaming-related revenue.

Speaking on the topic, Rep. Summer said, “The introduction of electronic gaming on AMHS ferries has the potential to generate additional revenue through fees, taxes, and a percentage of gaming income, similar to land-based casinos, contributing to the funding of maritime services.”

The proposed legislation would activate slot machines once the ferries sail three miles from land, adhering to the state’s current law that prohibits casino gambling within its boundaries. As per preliminary estimates, slots on ferries could generate an annual revenue of $20 million for the state through taxes.

However, opponents argue that the bill in question, which is currently in a draft form, would limit slot machines to a few routes, as most of the ferries that are currently operating stay within three miles of the shore. To address this, supporters of the bill suggest rerouting the ferries to ensure compliance with the three-mile condition.

AMHS Marine Director Craig Tornga points out that only ferries operating between Kodiak Island and the mainland, Dutch Harbor across the Gulf of Alaska, and certain zones within Prince William Sound currently sail beyond three miles offshore. Critics are also concerned about the aging ferries' capacity to meet the extensive electrical needs of slot machines.

While opponents worry about the potential adverse impact of introducing slots on ferry rates, which are already considered quite expensive, Rep. Sumner remains determined to move ahead with the proposed bill to generate a new revenue stream for the AMHS.

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