GUAM RESIDENTS DIVIDED ON CASINO PROPOSAL

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 2) - Opinions clashed at a public hearing at the Legislature last night on a proposal to allow voters to cast ballots on the casino question sooner than the General Election in November next year.

Reflecting the level of community interest -- and division -- on the issue, island residents packed the legislative hearing room, which seats a crowd of more than 50. More people stood outside the room to listen or wait for turns to let island lawmakers know their stance on the issue.

The Citizens for Economic Diversity proposal, which would allow casinos in hotels with 100 or more rooms, already has met the required number of voter signatures to put the question of whether to legalize casinos on the General Election ballot in 2004.

So what's the hurry?

Ask that question to workers who stand to lose their jobs and to business owners on the brink of bankruptcy, said businessman Robert Perron, who's on the board of Citizens for Economic Diversity.

"This island is in a perilous downward spiral that needs to be stopped," Perron said.

He said if the community says "no" to casino gaming, then so be it, but the decision must be made now so Guam can move on.

But the initiative raises a lot of questions and rushing the proposal is irresponsible, said Bernadita Camacho Dungca, who described herself, among other things, as a grandmother and an educator.

"Why are we here when people of Guam have said 'no' three times before?'' asked Dungca, a member of Linala Sin CasiNo, an organization against legalized casino gambling.

She said Guam has more than once overwhelmingly rejected legalizing casinos. The issue has been asked over three generations of Guam residents, even before she became a mom, Dungca said.

The Citizens for Economic Diversity push for a controlled casino industry, where casinos are allowed only in hotels with 100 or more rooms, received support from those who believe casinos will help draw more tourists and create jobs.

Peter Dumaliang, a construction company controller, testified he once was against allowing casinos on Guam, but added he has now changed his mind.

"Our economy has become sluggish, and we now need to diversify our revenue-enhancing options," Dumaliang said.

And not allowing voters to decide in a special election, according to Dumaliang, "would mean a gross suppression of our basic right to be active in shaping public policy, as well as a classic suppression of the real meaning of democracy."

Joseph Camacho, managing director of travel retail giant DFS, one of Guam's largest private employers, said the company opposes casino gaming and has historically opposed gaming.

"Today tourism is a clean and wholesome industry on Guam, and we'd like to keep it that way," Camacho said.

He said, just recently, a council of Japanese travel wholesalers held a meeting on Guam and did not suggest casino gaming as one of the things Guam must do to boost visitor arrivals. The council said Guam needs to clean up the island and improve the look of hotels, according to Camacho.

"We don't need to change our tourism landscape, which is what casino gaming will do here," Camacho said. "We need to restore Guam's beauty, we need to restore Guam's hospitality. ... We don't really need casino gaming."

Shirley Bautista, who supports the casino proposal, said Guam no longer will have to "cry for federal funding" if casino revenues can be generated.

Lawyer Jay Arriola urged lawmakers against hurrying up the election.

The proposed casino gaming law, he said, has language that brushes aside Election Commission responsibilities on the conduct of an election, such as requiring only three -- instead of five -- election precinct officials during the special election.

Arriola urged the lawmakers to allow more public scrutiny over the proposal and wait for the vote to take place in a regularly scheduled election. He also said it's best to wait until November next year to allow participation of as many voters as possible.

"If it's just this initiative on the ballot, only the (initiative's supporters) will show up," Arriola said.

Rocio A. Merrill, a former human resources manager, offered testimony saying resort-based casino gaming will create jobs in an economy that desperately needs help.

"I can tell you that the people I work with believe it to be a good thing, one that will help our business rebuild and help countless families regain the self-respect and futures they once believed would be found on Guam,'' Merrill said.

Matthew Artero took the casino debate to another level by suggesting that if voters allow the legalization of casinos, there should be only one casino licensee, and that the government should own the license.

"As the saying in gambling goes, 'The house always wins,' so let's let the government win for a change," Artero said.

He suggested the use of the old Guam Memorial Hospital site for the government casino.

October 2, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

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