News Analysis By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher
Senate Bill 340, proposed by State Senator Bobby Singleton, which changes the current operation and regulation of electronic bingo in Greene County, has caused much concern, discussion and dissention among county leaders.
In an exclusive interview with Senator Singleton last week, he said, “Representative McCampbell and I discussed the problems with electronic bingo in Greene County.
Among them the threat of raids by the state on bingo as illegal gambling; the conflicts between the Sheriff and County Commission, which have led to lawsuits; and the proliferation of bingo parlors which do not employ as many people, at good wages, as when bingo was centralized in one place.”
Singleton said that he and McCampbell decided to develop a proposed amendment to Greene County’s Amendment 743, authorizing electronic bingo, which would clarify the legality of bingo; require that electronic bingo be played at a licensed racetrack facility where pari-mutuel wagering is currently legal; codify and provide a new formula for the distribution of bingo funds, including a tax (4%) to the State of Alabama and a local gross receipt tax (8.5%) to benefit Greene County government, agencies and non-profits; and move the regulation and administration of electronic bingo from the Sheriff to a new Greene County Gaming Commission. Limiting electronic bingo to a racetrack in Greene County where pari-mutuel wagering is legal, limits the operations to Greenetrack and would likely lead to a phase-out of the other facilities licensed by Sheriff Benison. The owners and employees of these facilities are opposed to this amendment
Singleton said that he, McCampbell and other members of the Greene County legislative delegation plan to hold public meetings in Greene County to explain the bill and its impacts before a November vote by the citizens of Greene County on the revised Constitutional Amendment. If the proposal passes the Alabama Legislature with no dissenting votes then it only requires a referendum vote in Greene County, however, if there is opposition from one member of the Legislature, then a statewide vote will be required.
Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison is opposed to the bill because it will strip his office of control of electronic bingo. In an open letter, printed in full on page 4, he argues that the legislation will return control of bingo to the 73 for-profit stockholders of Greenetrack to operate as an unfair monopoly.
Benison points to the impact of his monthly $200 per bingo machine tax and the benefits that the four bingo parlors have generated in income and jobs for the county.
Benison makes the point that many other public officials in the county and municipalities have made that Singleton and McCampbell did not publicize, discuss or seek input on their proposal before introducing it in the Alabama Legislature. Benison says in his letter, “it was introduced in a stealth manner designed to catch people off guard.” Singleton says that he and McCampbell were concerned that bingo was a target for state action and wanted to head this off.
The bill clarifies and legally allows electronic bingo “on any machine or device that is authorized by the National Gaming Regulatory Act by 25 U. S. C. Section 2701, and which is operated by any Native American tribe in Alabama.” This would legalize any electronic bingo machine or device, which was approved by the Federal government for use in Indian casinos, to be used in Greene County.
The proposed revised amendment calls for distribution of funds for a state gross receipts tax (4%) and a local gross receipts tax (8.5%) on gaming revenues at the racetrack operating bingo. These taxes would be levied on the gross revenues, which are defined as the total amount of money played on the electronic machines less the value of prizes and winnings paid to the players. The gross figure would be determined before costs of operating the bingo facilities were applied.
Singleton said in the interview, that “he estimates the annual gross revenues from electronic bingo would be at least $50 million and may be 20 to 30% higher.” Based on this estimate the State of Alabama would receive $2 million or more in new tax revenues per year from bingo in Greene County.
The local gross receipts tax of 8.5% would generate $4.25 million in revenues, which would be divided as follows:
• .5% to the Greene County Racing Commission to license and regulate bingo:
• .5% to the Greene County Commission;
• 1.5% to Greene County Commission for municipalities in Greene County, based on population;
• .5% to the Greene County Firefighters Association;
• 2 % to the Greene County Board of Education;
• .5% to the Greene County E-911 Communications District;
• 1% to the Greene County Hospital and Nursing Home;
• .25% to Greene County Industrial Development Board;
• .25% to Greene County Ambulance Service;
• .75% to the Greene County Housing Authority;
• .75% to the Greene County Gaming Commission, for distribution to non-profit organizations, that provide services to residents of Greene County.
Some agencies will receive more than they are receiving now and others, like the Greene County Commission and the Sheriff’s Office, will receive less.
One benefit of this plan is that the people of Greene County will know the gross revenues generated by bingo and exactly how they are being distributed. Currently the total gross revenue going through the four licensed bingo parlors is not publically available.
The new Greene County Gaming Commission will consist of five (5) members, all of whom must reside in the Seventh Congressional District and at least two must be residents of Greene County. The Commission will be named as follows: one by the Governor, one by the Congressperson, one by the State Senator and two by the State Representatives in the delegation. Some feel this will take control of bingo out of the hands of Greene County citizens and allow other people to make critical decisions for Greene County.