The anti-casino group Communities Opposing Prop A or COPA launched its campaign on Sept. 6 with a lineup that included members of the business community prestigious enough to rival those of the pro-gaming group Citizens for Economic Diversity.

Facing an audience of supporters and media the panel included John K. Lee senior vice president at First Hawaiian Bank; Bruce E. Kloppenburg president of Kloppenburg Enterprises Inc.; Jackie A. Marati vice president and special assistant to the president of Bank of Guam chairperson of COPA and spokesperson for the group; and James Castro manager of Gameworks member.

Not present was Rizk Saad general manager SandCastle Entertainment Center and vice chairman of COPA.

Lee said he did not support Proposal A for several reasons. “The term ‘control ’ puts that in the hands of the local government. I think a lot of people have problems with confidence in the government to control anything.” He said he did not think benefits would be offset against social ills the Act might bring. “My wife and I go to Vegas quite often — I just don’t want casinos in my backyard ” he told the Journal. He was unaware whether First Hawaiian had supported gaming initiatives in Hawaii or not.

Kloppenburg emphasized at the meeting that he was not speaking in his capacity as a member of the board of the Guam Visitors Bureau the Japan-Guam Travel Association or the Guam Chamber of Commerce. All three organizations have taken a neutral position on the issue. “I speak for myself my family and my company ” he said.

He told the Journal gaming was not a good move for tourism. “It won’t increase visitor arrivals; secondly Japanese which make up 85% of our visitor arrivals come here because we are a sea-sand-family destination. Putting this in will jeopardize that in my opinion — it’s too big a risk.”

He said the Japanese were not known as gamblers. “There have been no studies that indicate that gaming will increase Japanese visitor arrivals. I believe that to be an outright lie ” Kloppenburg told the meeting. “Individually I have spoken to many of the tour agents and they share my take on this matter. However being Japanese they won’t say that and as a group they have taken a neutral position. But I can assure you even the Japanese tour wholesalers are wary of this issue.”

Some COPA members have already made donations to the COPA war chest including $5 000 from Kloppenberg Enterprises.

Lee said the amount he and First Hawaiian Bank would donate was not yet clear. “We are committed to making a donation; we just haven’t decided how much.” Marati said fund-raising was ongoing.

While COPA officials talk of $75 000 CFED has estimated its campaign at $100 000. The five original members of CFED launched the organization with $3 000 each in 2002. The money was used to incorporate CFED. Since that time the original members have continued to contribute with additional donations from the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa and the Palace Hotel Guam. The five members are John Lee president of Lee & Han Corp. which has interests in Shell Yigo Blimpie and the Coffee Beanery; Gordon Chu vice president and general manager of Univity Devlopment Inc. and vice president of the Guam National Olympic Committee; David J. Lujan president of DNA Inc.; Censio Tan C. Vy president of Benson guam; and Robert A. Perron general manager of Guahan Wate Control Inc. According to CFED about 150 small donors have given anywhere from $100 to $500. CFED donations are declared as taxable income and subject to gross receipts tax. COPA has registered with the election commission .

Marati said the group had arrived at three conclusions. “Prop A is a bad law; Prop A compromises Guam’s economic development; Prop A will destroy the quality of life on Guam.” She said COPA would be “Refuting the idea that this is controlled casino gambling refuting the idea that Prop A will bring millions to our economy and refuting the idea of the promise of thousands of new careers.” The proposal she said “Is about deceiving the citizens of Guam into believing there is one and only one solution for economic recovery — casino gambling.”

A Power-Point presentation which ran throughout the press conference featured a testimonial paid for by COPA from Madeleine Z. Bordallo Guam’s delegate to Congress who warned against “gambling on unpredictable and false promises of overnight riches. Join me on Voting ‘No’ on Proposal A ” Bordallo said by video.

Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron spoke at the conference as did Jose Cruz professor at the University of Guam and president of Lina’la Sin Casino a group of long-time opponents to gambling in Guam; and Sen. Vicente C. “Ben” Pangelinan speaker of the 27th Guam Legislature.

Sen. Jesse A. Lujan and former justice Benjamin “B.J.” Cruz senatorial candidate sat in the second row of supporters facing the audience together with Maj. David Harmon of the Salvation Army.

Pangelinan told the Journal he was opposed to Proposal A. He said he did not believe it would bring major economic benefits; nor would gaming be viewed as a positive addition to quality of life by the military; and too many people would be affected by the social cost.

The Democratic Party might take a position on Proposal A Pangelinan said. “That’s something we’re discussing with the party leadership at this time. Each of the individual party members has a position on this and it’s no secret. Some of our party — incumbents as well as candidates — believe casino gambling can contribute to the community. I disagree but I am not sure we will do it as a caucus.”

Lujan said he did not think the Republican Party would take a party stand on the matter. He said he had read the proposed act several times and had misgivings with it. “If the initiative passes there would be a judicial challenge to it because it dictates an appropriation and I don’t think an initiative can dictate an appropriation. That alone is something of a challenge.” Lujan also had concerns about the appropriation itself he said. “If it’s such a money-making thing why don’t they put up the start-up money?”

Apuron voiced his disapproval of Proposal A at the conference and confirmed to the Journal that he had talked to children at St. Anthony’s School on the issue. “It was the visit that I always do when school opens and I allow for questions and answers sometimes.” The archbishop said he knew nothing about members of the Catholic community reportedly calling on hotel managers in Tumon. Marati said COPA had met with high school children. Primary school children are participating in roadside waves organized by COPA.

Mae Quinata president of the Catholic Daughters of America is treasurer for COPA; and John Philips president of the Guam Accountancy Association and president of the Guam chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons acts as assistant treasurer. The retirees association passed a resolution in support of COPA and would be making a donation Philips said. He said that would likely be between $1 000 and $2 000 as the association had funds of little more than $3 000.

Like CFED COPA will host community events which Marati said would be “wholesome.” A COPA-sponsored march followed by an education forum would be held in Dededo on Sept. 18 Cruz said. He said “We have been doing outreach through the flea markets — because you meet a cross section of people at the flea markets.”

The two groups will face off at a Guam Chamber of Commerce general membership meeting set for Sept. 29 and at a Guam Humanities Council for Oct. 6.

Jay Arriola partner at Arriola Cowan and Arriola is legal counsel to the group. Arriola is Marati’s sister. Their mother the late Sen. Elizabeth Arriola had been firmly anti-gaming. Monica O. Guzman partner at the Galaide Group acts as secretary and campaign manger The Galaide Group has been retained to act for COPA and has organized campaign material. MBJ