Friday, March 5, 2010

Gary Palmer: The Battle over bingo is not over

  In the February 28, 2010 edition of The Birmingham News, Sen. Roger Bedford dismissed the inexcusable actions of the crowd of people who disrupted a lawful and peaceful rally against the spread of electronic bingo casinos in Alabama. Protesters arrived on seven commercial buses and carried professionally designed and printed signs, then positioned themselves in front of the Alabama State House while attempting to shout down every speaker.

  If you are interested in seeing what actually happened that day, watch this 2-minute video to see the lengths to which these powerful gambling interests will go to overwhelm and silence any opposition.

  Despite the decidedly negative impact of the protesters, Bedford and other state senators have tried to downplay and even justify the protesters’ actions as frustration over not being allowed to vote on legalizing gambling. All during the legislative session, gambling interests have pounded the airwaves with “let the people vote” ads which have helped give political cover to senators who claim to be “personally” opposed to gambling, but are for “allowing the people to vote.”

  When people gathered to speak against the bill, these powerful gambling interests spent thousands of dollars to bring in protesters to shout them down. If the gambling interests will not let people exercise their right to speak against legislation they oppose, who are they kidding with their calls to let the people vote when they won’t let the people speak?

  Pro-gambling senators paint a rosy picture of what Alabama will get by legalizing electronic bingo. Alabama will actually get powerful gambling interests in control of our state. Alabama politics is already awash with gambling interests’ money. Already, millions of dollars have been passed through PACs to politicians in an attempt to hide the money trail from voters. In fact, The Birmingham News reported that gambling interests poured over $2 million into PACs in the month of December alone.

  Year after year, Bedford and other pro-gambling legislators persist in promoting gambling, claiming they only want what is best for the people of Alabama. As the sponsor of the current gambling bill, Sen. Bedford wrote that “… creating the right bill for Alabama is critical.”  He added, “The goal is to get it right.” If the current bill is any indication, the priority is clearly to get it right for the gambling interests.

  I might have slightly more confidence in Bedford and some of the other senators behind this bill if it were not for the fact that they have supported practically every gambling bill that has been introduced over the last 20 years. Every year, Milton McGregor and other gambling kingpins have pushed legislation to legalize or expand their gambling joints and almost without exception, these same legislators have been reliable votes.

  They speak of creating jobs, generating new revenues for state and local government and funding for school children and senior citizens. If gambling is the answer to all of our problems, then why does Mississippi still have the nation’s highest poverty rate and lowest per capita income? Why has Florida’s per-pupil funding remained flat? Why do Florida and Georgia both have consistently higher high school dropout rates than Alabama?

  Alarmingly, senior citizens and low-income parents are among the biggest losers in casinos that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars from people who are least able to afford it – leaving churches, charities and taxpayers to foot the bill for higher social services costs.

  We must ignore the extreme spin and realize that we should not even consider taxing and regulating illegal activities. Electronic bingo machines are illegal and no illegal activity should be taxed and regulated the same way as a legitimate business enterprise. Legitimate businesses seek less taxation and regulation and they hire pro-business lobbyists to lobby the Alabama Legislature against higher taxes and regulations. But taxation and regulation are the golden rings illegal gambling interests grasp for. Taxing and regulating them will give them exactly what they most desperately want – legal sanction.

  After failing to get the necessary votes in the Senate, Bedford declared the bill dead for this legislative session. I doubt the gambling interests will pack up and leave because they have too much at stake. With so much time left in this legislative session, we should expect them to continue to pour money into PACs and lobbyists in attempt to get their bill passed. And we should also expect them to continue to pour money into a statewide advertising campaign in an effort to overwhelm their opposition.

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.  

No comments:

Post a Comment