Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: The State of gambling in Alabama

  Political polling may not be an exact science. However, a poll today conducted by a professional top notch firm can most times be taken to the bank. The polling on this year’s political races has been right on the money. The pollsters nailed a good many of the primary races right on the head. Primaries are more difficult to predict than general elections because of the uncertainty as to who is going to show up to vote. You can pretty much bet that their readings will render the outcome in November fairly accurately.

  Speaking of polling and betting the polling numbers on the gambling issue in Alabama are revealing. It is obvious that over the last twelve years there has been a glaring incremental increase in tolerance toward gambling and a lottery among Alabama’s electorate. An up and down clean vote on a lottery today would pass substantially. People overwhelmingly want to vote on whether the state should tax and regulate electronic bingo. The majority would favor allowing bingo.

  Although most people are of the opinion that gambling is wrong and a poor way to subsidize government operations, they are aware that it is impossible to negate and that we are losing revenue to other states. However, gambling is not a panacea for the resolution of Alabama’s impending financial woes even if we were the first to delve into this endeavor. Our potential for gambling revenue is very limited at this point. Every state surrounding us has a lottery and Mississippi has casinos. This year the Florida Legislature approved full scale casinos, which will begin to sprout up within the next two years. Florida will emerge as the king of gambling. They may very well surpass Las Vegas. We are not a tourist destination state like Florida. Therefore, our potential for vast amounts of revenue from gambling is very limited.

  The only facility that we have in the state that attracted out of state patrons was VictoryLand in Macon County. Over half of their customers came from Atlanta. However, Bob Riley’s vendetta against the facility has essentially destroyed this legitimate tax-paying casino. Their demise has destroyed the largest employer in this 80 percent African American county. VictoryLand’s payroll superseded the renowned Tuskegee University. Macon County has a state of the art high school that resembles a junior college campus and would put Mountain Brook High School to shame, which was built entirely with proceeds from VictoryLand.  In fact, VictoryLand has bestowed over $200 million in contributions to the county

  Riley’s running roughshod over Macon County’s largest employer has rendered them hapless and done nothing to keep Alabamians who want to play bingo from doing so. They simply have folded their hands and moved on to the Indian casinos in this state and Mississippi. This is precisely what Riley had in mind with his raids.

  The presumptive observation of most political observers in the state is that the current federal investigation surrounding gambling and state politicians was orchestrated by Riley and his minions, Bill and Leura Canary, as a subterfuge from his involvement with the Indian gambling interests. It is more than a little suspect that the Obama administration has failed to place a new U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Alabama, nearly two years after the change should have occurred.

  If a Democratic U.S. Attorney were in place an investigation would be focused on the real winner in these legislative battles, the Indian casinos. They have won the war over bingo in Alabama.

  Both gubernatorial candidates have distanced themselves from Riley on this issue. Robert Bentley is for letting folks vote on all gambling, although he personally opposes all forms of gambling. Ron Sparks advocates wide open gambling and taxing the revenues. Riley’s horse in the race, Bradley Byrne, who espoused Riley’s Indian-only monopoly on gambling, ran out of the money. That does not mean that he did not have plenty of money to run with. Riley used his buddy Bill Canary to orchestrate the depletion of the Business Council’s resources on Byrne’s failed campaign. You might say that the BCA got burned by Byrne. They are now broke with the need to scurry to protect legislative friends, which they will desperately need because they will not have a friend in the governor’s office.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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