The Alabama Senate could vote this week on a bill allowing legal gambling in five locations across the state.
But there is a major political challenge: there are more than five gambling operators in the state.
“It would be devastating to our operations,” said Jason Hendrix, manager of White Hall Entertainment, which operates a gaming facility on Highway 80 in Lowndes County. “You talk about putting 50 people out of work. And then maybe 50 to 100 people who are indirectly affected by it. “
Smaller operators outside the bill are advocating increasing the number of sites covered in the bill to include them in the final proposal, arguing that they provide jobs and tax revenue for their communities
“The wiregrass area appears to be excluded from economic development packages, which could benefit our region,” said Melody Lee, a spokeswoman for The Crossing at Big Creek outside Dothan. “We are obviously not against the bill. We just want to be added by an amendment. “
Legislators from these regions reiterate these concerns about job protection, especially in areas suffering from widespread poverty.
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However, for advocates of the legislation, this is a challenge. Keep the current number of websites and you could lose votes. Add websites and you risk mobilizing gambling skeptics into legislation.
“Is there a way to expand that? I can’t tell you this is the case, “said Senator Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the sponsor of the law, at a committee hearing on Feb. 11.” I am ready to listen to my colleagues and see how the consensus is. But at some point I believe that there has to be a limited number of gaming facilities and a strong gaming committee to monitor and maintain them. “(Comments seeking messages were left for Marsh on Friday and Monday.)
As previously mentioned, the bill would allow casino-type gambling in five locations across the state: VictoryLand in Macon County; GreeneTrack in Greene County; the Birmingham Race Course and Mobile Greyhound Park. A fifth location in Counties DeKalb or Jackson would go to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who operate casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka.
The operations would have slot machines and casino-like table games, which state law currently prohibits. It would also encourage Governor Kay Ivey to pursue a gaming pact with the Poarch Band.
The Legislative Services Agency (LSA) estimates they could raise $ 260 million to $ 393 million annually. (The bill would also create a state lottery, which the LSA estimates would raise $ 194 million to $ 279 million. The proceeds would be used for educational grants.)
The Alabama Constitution bans gambling and gambling, but a number of local constitutional changes approved charity bingo in several locations across the state, such as VictoryLand and GreeneTrack. Houston County voters approved a bingo change in 1994. Lowndes County voters approved one in 2000 and a second two years later, enabling “media bingo” in the White Hall.
The operators have read the changes at that time so that they allow electronic bingo in these areas. In recent years, however, the Alabama Supreme Court has read the changes in a much narrower sense, making the game illegal. After a series of raids in the early 2010s, electronic bingo has returned to some establishments despite being on murky legal ground.
The smaller operators argue that they offer jobs in areas that most private companies ignore and fear that passing the change would force them to close their doors. Hendrix at White Hall criticized the plan to build a casino in northeast Alabama, saying it would benefit residents of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“I’m not against Chattanooga having jobs, but at the expense of Lowndes County and our people, it’s troubling and hurting Alabamians in need,” he said.
Both Hendrix and Lee argued that if they had slot machines, table games, and sports betting, they could hire additional staff and bring millions of dollars to state and local governments. This would likely mean infrastructure improvements for these facilities. The operators insist that they can provide or already exist.
“Obviously there would be some infrastructure changes,” Lee said. “But for the most part, it’s ready to go.”
It’s a topic that is likely to be part of the gambling bill discussions. Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma, of whose district Lowndes is a part, sent a letter to the committee earlier this month urging members to “be fair to Lowndes County” and include White Hall in an amendment. Senator Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, of whose district Houston County is a part, had questions for Marsh in a subsequent debate about the measure.
Chesteen said in a phone interview Monday that he asked Marsh to add The Crossing to his gambling bill ahead of the meeting. Chesteen said he was primarily concerned about jobs in the area and could not support the bill without mentioning The Crossing.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of voters,” he said. “You gave me your opinion about Dothan, the Houston County facility closed. And she wasn’t pleased.”
The smaller operators have not been coordinating their efforts since last week.
“We haven’t spoken to anyone,” said Hendrix. “We are concerned about the survival of Lowndes County and our people.”
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected]