Expanded gambling ban legislation to be heard today

GAMBLING: Gambling devices found in various lounges, bars and game rooms throughout the island were ordered removed in 2008. Post file photo

In certain places on Guam, 24/7 "game rooms" have been magnets for robbers desperate for cash and people who – while already strapped for cash – bet the household money away, falsely hoping to make more.

The issue of gambling machines and game rooms has resurfaced with Sen. Telena Nelson's proposed law, which was introduced on Monday. While her proposal is clear about her intent to ban future beto beto, card games, and others that have been staple gambling activities at fairs, fiestas and carnivals on Guam, there seems to be an expansion of her proposed ban toward certain gambling machines.

Nelson's office stated that machines that allow people to gamble using horse race or greyhound race machines, among other gambling machines, would be banned "islandwide." 

When The Guam Daily Post asked if this meant game rooms would be banned, her office said no, but if game rooms have gambling machines such as horse race or greyhound machines, then these establishments would no longer be able to operate them.

The legislation definitely needs more clarity but the intent is there.

Attorney General Leevin Camacho's office announced in February that his office firmly maintains that gambling devices cannot and should not be licensed on Guam. 

The AG's office awaits a Supreme Court ruling that ultimately will decide the validity of the gaming device regulations.

About 1,200 gaming devices were licensed in 2008, in violation of Guam's amusement devices licensing laws, the attorney general's office has stated. The AG's office has sued the Department of Revenue and Taxation to revoke the licenses.

Anti-gambling advocates have been quiet lately but Sen. Nelson's legislation is a good takeoff point for a broader discussion on the gambling parlors that dot the island. If Guam were to take a stand against gambling machines, then it should include all machines that involve betting money and losing it.

Certain gambling establishments have been able to work around Guam's existing gambling ban by not allowing gamblers to take payouts directly from machines. Instead, they're allowed to bet with tokens that can be cashed out through a cashier's booth if they're lucky enough to have some left by the end of the day or night.

If Guam were to ban gambling machines then all such betting machines should be forbidden. If Guam is OK with people putting their money into gambling machines all night and day, then they all should be allowed.

Gambling operations shouldn't be based on who has the legal muscle and deep lobbying pocket to call gambling machines something else in order to get around the ban.

Guam law attempts to delineate between machines that are games of skill and games of chance. If you're feeding money or tokens that you bought with money and you risk walking away with your pocket empty – it is gambling. 

It's time for senators, the administration and the courts to call gambling parlors and their machines what they really are.

Everyone knows these machines – no matter what they're called – are used to gamble money. Magistrate's complaints have shown a record of gamblers and robbers converging in these establishments and in desperation causing harm to innocent bystanders or business staffers or owners.

Cashiers have been put in harm's way when desperate robbers and/or gamblers want cash. We shouldn't wait for the day when one attack on an innocent gambling attendant or cashier becomes deadly.

Let senators and other elected officials take a stand and hold a vote on anti-gambling legislation and resolve the "game rooms" issue. Do elected officials want these gambling parlors in or out? 

By holding an open vote in the Legislature and sending a proposed law to the governor's desk, we the public will see who are friends with the gambling lobby or who truly are friends with Guam residents who want nothing but our safety and the welfare of our families in mind.

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