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BILL 19 HEARS FROM BOTH SIDES

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By Patrick Lujan

GNOC President Ricardo Blas and Secretary General Bob Steffy listen to questions asked by senators regarding Bill 19-32. (photo by Errol Alegre, Jr.)

GNOC President Ricardo Blas and Secretary General Bob Steffy listen to questions asked by senators regarding Bill 19-32. (photo by Errol Alegre, Jr.)

The 32nd Guam Legislature spent more than two hours Friday afternoon hearing public testimony on Bill 19-32, an act to amend Public Law 26-52 and slap on a 20% tax on gaming revenue that would go back to the island’s sports facilities – in particular, village and school facilities. The bill would also allow the Director of the Department of Revenue & Taxation to act as the Chairman of the Gaming Control Commission until one is appointed.

The bill was being heard under the Committee on Appropriations, Public Debt, Legal Affairs, Retirement, Public Parks, Recreation, Historic Preservation and Land chaired by Sen. Ben Pangelinan.

The Guam National Olympic Committee is the largest organization that attracts gaming revenue at over $3 million annually, mostly from its GNOC Bingo program based out of Australia. Members of the GNOC, including President Ricardo Blas, Vice President Gordon Chu and Secretary General/Treasurer Bob Steffy, were all opposed to the bill along with other members of the community.

“If it’s 20%, we’ll have to close,” Steffy told the panel of 13 senators at the legislative public hearing room. He earlier stated in his written testimony that the increase in taxes would ‘cripple the GNOC’.

“We were dumb founded when we found out (about the bill),” Blas said while reading his written testimony. “I don’t understand why? Why attack an organization that supports the athletes and coaches of Team Guam?”

According to co-author Sen. Chris Duenas, the GNOC and the cockfighting organizations are not paying its share of taxes.

In an example given during the hearing, Duenas pointed out that the GNOC filed gross income in the amounts of $3.4 million in 2011 and $3.5 million in 2012 and did not pay taxes to those amounts.

Co-author of Bill 19-32 makes an emphasis a point regarding tax collection during the bill's public hearing. (photo by Errol Alegre, Jr.)

Co-author of Bill 19-32 makes an emphasis a point regarding tax collection during the bill’s public hearing. (photo by Errol Alegre, Jr.)

According to Steffy, there are “no procedures or forms to pay the tax” for such tax-exempt organizations such as the GNOC.

John Camacho, Director of Rev & Tax and a former Guam national basketball player, was on hand to answer any questions regarding the enforcement of such taxation.

After several back-and-forth discussions about procedures and enforcement of such taxes, freshman Senator Michael San Nicolas vowed to look into the issue further under his legislative committee which oversees Regulatory Concerns.

“This (bill) brings to the attention of the taxes we are not collecting,” San Nicolas stated. “I commend the authors (Sens. Duenas, Tommy Morrison and B.J. Cruz) and I also commend the GNOC for being an organization not relying on the government for support.”

Also concerned and an opponent of the bill was George Benoit, president of the Guam National Golf Federation which runs its own bingo events called Plumeria Bingo which draws in $9 million a year and almost $100,000 goes back into the golf federation.

OPPOSING GAMBLING

Jackie Marati, representing ‘Keep Guam Good’ – a group that has successfully defeated the last five gambling initiatives on Guam, was in favor of the bill in part because of the “lack of transparency” and the “need to raise revenue and public disclosure”.

Marati took it a step further and suggested to the panel of senators that the bill is a temporary solution and that there is a need to overhaul all gambling on Guam. Her suggestion is to ban all forms of gambling.

“Honorable senators, will you listen?,” she asked as she closed her oral testimony.

One senator who was listening is veteran lawmaker B.J. Cruz, who suggested he may take Marati up on such suggestion after hearing more financial figures from GNOC.

According to GNOC records submitted, there were $22.5 million of bingo ticket sales from Guam alone in the past 10 years with the GNOC collecting $3.5 million. Those figures did not sit well with Cruz.

“It really is a gross tax on the people,” Cruz said. “The return to the community just isn’t there. We can find another way to get you $3.5 million than to take $22.5 million from the people.”

Young Guam athletes come out to support the GNOC in opposing Bill 19-32. (photo by Errol Alegre, Jr.)

Young Guam athletes come out to support the GNOC in opposing Bill 19-32. (photo by Errol Alegre, Jr.)

WHAT’S NEXT?

The three authors of the bill will provide input to the committee and substitute ideas based on testimonies.

“It ended well,” Duenas stated. “They are now willing to pay their share. It’s a victory in and of itself. They’ve agreed to pay their fair share.”

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