An ex-Anchorage mayor is pushing for an Alaska state lottery

JUNEAU — Former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is in Juneau this week hoping to hit the jackpot: He's trying to convince lawmakers to authorize a state lottery.

Sullivan, who finished his second three-year term as mayor last year, said in an interview that a lottery could take a small bite out of the state's $3.8 billion budget deficit. And he's talked with more than a dozen lawmakers this week about approving legislation to set up a state lottery corporation, which would allow Alaska to participate in multistate games like Powerball.

"Bless the lotteries — they're the only voluntary form of taxation, so it's not government forcibly extracting from your wallet," he said, noting that he was quoting the writings of Thomas Jefferson. "If you want to play, you do, and if you don't, you don't. Does it solve the budget crisis? Nope. Does it help? Yes."

Sullivan is acting as the volunteer director of the Alaska Lottery Coalition — a group that he said claims other members, though he wouldn't identify any of them.

Alaska is one of six states that doesn't participate in Powerball, which this month saw its jackpot hit $1.5 billion. There's no state lottery in Alaska now, though gambling games like bingo, pull-tabs and the Nenana Ice Classic are allowed. Bingo and pull-tabs operate under charitable gaming licenses.

In 2014, gaming operators reported about $340 million in gross receipts to the state, which collected $2.5 million in taxes. A paper produced by Gov. Bill Walker's administration last year said the state could potentially produce $15 million in revenue by creating a lottery.

The last proposal to do so was in 2003, from a Republican senator who wanted to use the proceeds for education, but his legislation never made it to the floor for a vote.


Sullivan said he was involved in an effort to create a lottery 28 years ago that passed the state House and made it through Senate committees before being held off the floor by leadership — "or we would have had a state lottery," he said.

One of the lawmakers who met with Sullivan this week, Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, said she has a fundamental problem with gambling.

"People work hard for their money, and I don't want to see it frittered away," she said in an interview. "It seems like folks that can least afford it participate."

On the other hand, she added: "Who am I to be telling someone they can't?"

Gattis said she would consider legislation authorizing a state lottery, and Sullivan, she added, would likely "get many of us to think about it in a different way." Before she'd approve it, though, she said: "I'd have to look at the data."

Sullivan maintained that lotteries target a different, more affluent market than pull-tabs.

Lotteries, he said, "base their income on a lot of people playing a little."

"It's disposable income," he said.

Currently, Sullivan said, there's no money being spent on his effort, and he hasn't registered as a lobbyist.

"It's just a labor of love," he said.

Backers of a lottery may also consider pushing for a citizens initiative if lawmakers don't get behind their idea, he said.

Beyond his lottery campaign, Sullivan said he's been getting to the gym every day. But he said he has no plans to seek public office anytime soon.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com