News Analysis by John Zippert, Co-Publisher
The Alabama Legislature is considering several bills concerning a statewide lottery and changes to Constitutional Amendment 743, allowing charity bingo in Greene County, which may affect the future of gaming and the distribution of revenues from electronic bingo in the county.
Initially there were two lottery bills before the Alabama State Senate Tourism Committee to allow for a statewide lottery and multi-state games like Powerball and Mega Millions.
SB 220 sponsored by Senators Albritton, Glover and Hightower provides for a paper lottery, similar to that in neighboring states, with the proceeds going primarily to the state’s General Fund, after paying for $180 million in loans from the Education Trust Fund, borrowed over the past three fiscal years to balance the state budget.
SB 130 sponsored by Senators McClendon, Singleton and others provided for a statewide paper lottery and “virtual lottery terminals” at designated places in Mobile, Macon, Jefferson, Greene and Lowndes counties, that previously were licensed for pari-mutuel betting on dogs and horses. This lottery bill would have generated more revenues for the state and local entities.
In Greene County, the McClendon and Singleton lottery bill would only allow “virtual lottery terminals” at Greenetrack. The bill also provided for the virtual lottery terminals to replace bingo terminals over a one-year period. There was no mention of the future of the other bingo operations in Greene County.
SB 220 (Albritton’s bill) for a basic paper lottery was approved by the Senate Tourism Committee and by the full Senate in a vote of 21 to 12. As a Constitutional Amendment it required a super majority, 60% vote, which it did achieve.
Senator Singleton’s bill providing for “virtual lottery terminals” was not considered by the Senate Tourism Committee. Senator Singleton tried to amend the Albritton bill on the floor of the Alabama Senate but he was unsuccessful.
Senator Linda Coleman-Madison amended the bill with language that the bill would not affect counties, like Greene, that had Constitutional Amendments prior to 2005 permitting charitable bingo. “ I was trying to make sure that this lottery bill did not interfere with bingo, in places like Greene County, that had established Constitutional Amendments permitting bingo,” said Senator Coleman-Madison.
The Albritton Lottery bill is now in the Alabama House Tourism Committee awaiting a vote. It will have to be approved by 63 Representatives, a 60% super majority to move forward. You can also expect efforts to add “virtual lottery terminals” in the House to the bill. Some House members have raised the concern that the revenues generated by the lottery do not go to support the Education Trust Fund.
If the lottery bill passes both houses of the Legislature and is signed by the Governor, it will face a statewide referendum on the March 3, 2019 Presidential Primary ballot before it becomes part of the State Constitution and tickets can be sold.
Singleton’s Bill to change Amendment 743
Senator Bobby Singleton in the wake of failing to add “virtual lottery terminals” to the Lottery bill was able to pass SB321 which repeals and replaces Greene County’s Bingo Constitutional Amendment No. 743. Singleton’s bill is in the House Tourism Committee awaiting a vote. If this bill passes the House, it will require a referendum by the people in Greene County before it takes the place of the current amendment.
Singleton’s proposal would substitute a five member Greene County Gaming Commission to “regulate and supervise the operation and conduct of bingo games” for the role of the Sheriff of Greene County, who administers bingo under the current Constitutional Amendment 743. The five members of the Gaming Commission would be chosen by the area’s legislative delegation including State Senator Singleton and Representatives A. J. McCampbell and Ralph Howard.
Singleton’s proposal would levy a 2% tax on the gross receipts of bingo to go to the State of Alabama and a 10% local tax on the gross receipts to go to the Gaming Commission, Greene County Commission and municipalities. A portion of the tax is also allocated to the Greene County Board of Education (2%); Greene County Firefighters Association (1/2 %); Greene County Hospital (1%); E-911 (1/2%); Greene County Industrial Board (1/4%); Greene County Ambulance Service (1/4%); Greene County Housing Authority (3/4%); and the remaining (3/4%) to non-profit agencies in the county.
These taxes on the gross revenues, which are defined as the total wagered minus prizes and promotions, would take the place of the current $225 fee per machine, per month, paid to the Sheriff and on to the county agencies and charitable organizations.
To measure the impact of these changes, you have to estimate the current gross revenues of bingo in Greene County, which is a figure that has never been revealed by the bingo operators.
Since Senator Singleton has been heavily influenced by Greenetrack and its CEO, Luther ‘Nat’ Winn, other bingo operators feel this amendment changes the whole structure of charitable bingo in the county and does not guarantee that the new Gaming Commission would recognize current licensees. There is no mention of “grand-fathering-in” any of the existing bingo operations under this new amendment.
A Letter to the Editor from Billy McFarland, connected with the TS Police Support League, a charity connected to the Palace Bingo operation is included in this week’s paper, which is critical of Singleton’s proposed new bingo amendment.
The Democrat invites our readers and others to comment on these developments affecting electronic bingo in the county so we can evaluate the proposals and make the best, most informed and democratic choices about bingo in Greene County going forward.