EVEN as the Governor's Office firmly stands by its position that Bill 19 is a "tax bill and does nothing about gambling," Attorney General Leonardo Rapadas negated this and was just as firm in saying, "The statement isn’t entirely true."
Rapadas also said the measure "references gaming rules and regulations that their office is challenging in court."
The Attorney General, reacting to Gov. Eddie Calvo’s news release stating Bill 19 just taxes current and existing forms of gambling, said the legislation also "attempts to legalize currently illegal electronic gambling devices known as Liberty, Symbolix, and Match Play."
Rapadas also said the extra taxes, which the Governor's Office said would support worthwhile projects and activities, would come from illegal gambling devices.
However, a legal memorandum from Attorney Sandra Miller, the governor's chief legal counsel, clarified that the intent and purpose of Bill 19 is to create a method for collecting tax and license fees from gaming activities on Guam, and then use the funds collected to finance certain government of Guam agencies and activities.
The memo said the bill would tax current existing non-profit bingo, lottery, cockfighting, carnival gaming, pinball, kiddie rides, coin-operated children’s video games, video horse/greyhound racing, and “symbolic amusement” devices.
All these activities currently are legal and operating on Guam, according to Miller.
In addition, extra taxes will be used to fund sports facilities and activities throughout the villages, and also to operate urgent care activities at Guam Memorial Hospital and to pay for GMH operations and debt.
Miller also said the bill “does not legalize casino gambling, poker machines, slot machines, etc., and does not do away with current non-profit bingo, lottery, cockfighting, carnival gaming, pinball, kiddie rides, children’s video games, video horse/greyhound racing, and ‘symbolic amusement’ devices.”
On the other hand, the Attorney General argued that Bill 19 attempts to legitimize the illegal electronic gambling devices and that the sunset provision repealing all forms of gambling will never take effect without the “Exhibit A” attachment listing Guam Memorial Hospital's debts.
Miller countered that "the bill purports to have a ‘sunset provision,’ but this provision is contingent upon an appendix that was not appended."
Bill 19 was transmitted to the Governor's Office without the attachment, provoking one lawmaker, Sen. Ben Pangelinan, to warn that the exclusion of the attachment would effectively legalize these activities in perpetuity.
Rapadas has already directed a review of the legal memorandum sent by the governor's chief legal counsel.
The controversial “hybrid” Bill 19 has created divergent perspectives from the community with its provision instituting an “across-the-board” ban on all forms of gambling once GMH's debts are paid off.
The Legislature unanimously passed an amended version of Bill 19 by a vote of 15-0. The original version of the measure, introduced by Sen. Chris Duenas, seeks to regulate gaming activities allowed by law, collect fees and taxes from licensed operators, and make funds available for improvements to Guam’s sporting facilities.
The amended version of the Duenas measure incorporates provisions from Bill 20, a bill introduced by Sen. Dennis Rodriguez, which proposes to use tax revenue from gaming machines to help pay off GMH's debts.
It also creates two new funds: the Limited Gaming Tax Fund and the GMHA Healthcare Trust and Development Fund. The former creates a 4 percent tax on gross receipts from limited gaming activities authorized by law.
Meanwhile, funding for the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority healthcare trust and development fund will come from licensing fees, business privilege tax, and income taxes from companies involved in gaming under the Gaming Rules & Regulations, including the Liberty, Symbolix and Match Play gaming devices.
A 4 percent assessment fee will be assessed on income from gaming devices.
Some 60 percent of the GMHA fund will be channeled toward the establishment and operation of an urgent healthcare center and 40 percent for the delivery of healthcare services.