Business leaders are being asked to take sides as campaigns heat up for and against Proposal A — the popular initiative that would establish casinos on Guam.
DFS Guam Guam’s biggest tourist retailer has come to the forefront of the anti-casino campaign with Joseph F. Camacho vice president finance for DFS U.S. Group making high-level calls for the anti-casino coalition. Camacho whose company put up $20 000 to wage a successful fight against a similar casino initiative in 1996 confirmed that DFS was at it again but declined to comment further.
An Aug. 12 board meeting of the Guam Visitors Bureau saw evidence of the divisiveness of the gambling issue. Monte Mesa president and general manager of Guam Premier Outlets and chairman of the bureau’s Japan Marketing Committee made a new-business motion for the use of up to $100 000 to fund a third-party study of the impact casinos would have on the tourism industry. While the motion fell one short of the eight votes required to pass the board’s activity riled up Speaker Vicente “Ben” Pangelinan. He sent two Aug. 16 letters to Tydingco and the media — one asking him to resign as chairman of the visitors bureau and another warning against “inappropriate use of government revenue ” which one observer said looked like a preemptive strike against a follow-up vote. “Funding an economic impact study advances the gambling issue and therefore the Bureau cannot spend government funds on this matter as the government of Guam to include the Guam Visitors Bureau has not taken a position ” Pangelinan wrote to Tydingco.
Mesa said he planned to re-introduce the measure at the next board meeting which is scheduled for Aug. 26. Board members expect the measure to pass this time.
Tydingco a consultant and spokesman for Citizens For Economic Diversity the group behind Proposal A said there was no reason for him to resign. He fired back a letter to Pangelinan: “I ask that you as an elected public official will also take the position of neutrality as you speak on the gaming initiative. This is not an issue for the government of Guam to decide but rather the people of Guam in the upcoming General Election. I hope that you will do everything in your power to assist the electorate in making an unbiased informed decision on the gaming initiative come election day.”
Alberto C. “Tony” Lamorena V general manager of the bureau said the board decided in February not to take a position on casinos because board members were clearly divided on the issue. Lamorena said many hotel members are in favor of Proposal A while optional-tour companies and retailers “see it as diluting the revenue stream — not generating any new revenue.”
Stephen C. Ruder president of Glimpses Advertising which is handling promotional work for CFED said the gaming initiative is the heavyweight in the Nov. 2 election. “This is the biggest thing happening this election. It’s a non-gubernatorial election it’s a mid-term legislative election it’s the only other issue on the ballot making it the biggest single issue in town right now. Also it’s the most viable economic opportunity in sight.”
Communities Opposing Proposition A a subgroup of Lina’la Sin Casino (Life Without Casinos) has hired Galaide Group to handle media coordination and possibly some design work. Monica O. Guzman a partner in Galaide said COPA is forming a coalition from “different communities” to prepare its campaign against Proposal A. “We agreed not to talk about the campaign until we have a unified position. We will have one in a couple of weeks ” Guzman said.
Jacqueline A. Marati vice president and special assistant to the president of Bank of Guam and spokeswoman for COPA was reluctant to speak directly about the issue but did talk about her motivation: “As an individual I am working as the daughter of the late Elizabeth Arriola. Everyone knows my mother stood up against casino gambling interests for decades.” Arriola was a senator for six consecutive terms ending in 1994. She passed away in June 2002. “This is a personal cause for me. I’m not being paid to do this.”
Marati said the debate ahead over the gambling initiative is intriguing because it is a non-partisan issue that cuts across political economic and social lines. “I am extremely invigorated and enthused to be working with numerous groups.”
CFED on Aug. 10 announced the launch of its public education campaign (See story on Page 24.) and both CFED and Lina’la Sin Casino made their pitches from side-by-side tables to shoppers and voters on Aug. 14 during a Political Campaign Fair at the Guam Premier Outlets mall.
Jose Q. Cruz a professor at the University of Guam and chairman of Lina’la Sin Casino said “Our position has not changed. Our reasons against casino gambling are the social and economic impact on the community — the notion that we are talking about people’s lives. Casinos always win; people always lose. Why consider such unproductive economic activity?”
While advocates maneuvered in August to establish their campaigns and build votes business leaders watched closely. Here’s what some of them had to say:
• “I asked my boss if we are taking a position on this and he said ‘Yeah we’re opening a second boutique in Las Vegas.’” I think that says it all ” said Karla E. Kehres general manager of Chanel Guam Inc.
“It should be a way to increase arrivals ” Kehres said “Which is what every business that has anything to do with tourism needs. We need to improve arrivals and to do that we need to have some kind of bigger attraction.”
• The owners of PIC Guam are in favor of Proposal A and have asked Bartley A. Jackson who was on record in 2003 as chairman of the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association as being against gaming due to the social impact to be publicly supportive of the initiative. “Our owner [Toyo Real Estate doing business as InterPacific Resorts Corp.] feels it would be beneficial to their asset to have gaming.” Jackson a member of the board of the visitors bureau said he was in favor of a study to clarify the issue from an independent viewpoint. “I have contacted people at the chamber to recommend passage of the motion when it comes up again next Thursday.”
• “I am troubled because I sit on the Japan Subcommittee at GVB ” said Mark Browne general manager of Louis Vuitton Guam Inc. “Shouldn’t we be spending money to carefully evaluate what’s on the ballot? It concerns me if we do nothing to study what the potential impact will be. To not fund a study would not be responsible to the industry. Now the answer that was given as to why we are doing nothing is that GVB is neutral which to me is unbelievable. I find that to be incredible.
“Going way way back I am disappointed that the government didn’t show leadership on this issue and left it to the group [CFED] that came up with a take-it-or-leave-it scenario with 10 licenses ” Browne said.
Louis Vuitton Guam does not have an official position on Proposal A Browne said because the company would prefer the granting of two licenses at most conditional on new investment in rooms or convention facilities. “The reason I say we don’t have an official line is that we have four stores in Las Vegas and one store in Macau. But for this island we need to look at it carefully because we are a predominantly family market.”
• William D. Leon Guerrero executive vice president and chief operating officer of Bank of Guam said the bank had no formal position on Proposal A; however many executives of the bank were opposed to it.
• Robert H. Jones president of Triple J Enterprises Inc. said “We are against it definitely. We don’t feel it will add anything to the lifestyle of the people of Guam and we don’t feel it will add much to the economic revitalization of Guam.
“I’ve always advocated promoting the islands together — those who want to gamble should go to Saipan or Tinian.”
• Mesa said of Guam Premier Outlets: “From the company side we have no position until such time as there is more information that will show how Proposal A might impact our company. Personally I think it should all be in Tinian. China is the market and they have the conduit to make it happen tomorrow if the region looks at destination marketing.”
• J.C. “Jere” Johnson president of Hawaiian Rock Products ” said “Our company position is that we support Proposal A. It will be good for the economy and good for the construction industry.” Johnson said Hawaiian Rock employees helped verify signatures on the petitions that were circulated by CFED to put the initiative on the ballot. MBJ