News Analysis By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher
State Senator Del Marsh of Anniston, Alabama has proposed a Lottery, Gambling and Sports Betting piece of legislation on the first day of the legislative session in February. The bill is based on a 700-page study of gambling in Alabama developed by a commission appointed by Governor Ivey that held hearings over the past year.
Marsh’s proposal would create a seven-member state commission to oversee the state lottery, casino gambling and sports betting. Gambling would generate $500-700 million yearly in new revenues for the state which would be directed toward post-secondary education scholarships, broadband, rural health care, mental health and other under-funded concerns in the state.
The proposal provides for a state-wide lottery, similar to that in states neighboring Alabama. The proposal would allow for 5 casino gambling locations in the state, where there would be slot machines and table games like Blackjack, Roulette and others.
The five locations are: Mobile, Victoryland, the Birmingham Racetrack, Greenetrack and a location in Northeast Alabama, which would be provided to the Porch Creek Indians on non-tribal lands. The facilities designated have had greyhound dog or horse racing in the past.
For Greene County this will mean the end of “electronic bingo” under Constitutional Amendment 743 in the county. Greene County currently has five operating bingo establishments: Greenetrack, BamaBingo, Rivers Edge, The Palace and Frontier, under the supervision of the Sheriff of Greene County. All but Greenetrack would have to close under this proposed legislation and Greenetrack would become a state licensed and regulated casino, with table games and slot machines.
We estimate that there are 300 to 400 people employed directly by bingo in Greene County. Closing four of the bingo establishments will mean that a substantial number of people will be unemployed or lose income. Some may be able to get jobs as Greenetrack expands its workforce to handle table games and increased traffic.
Last month, the four bingo establishments distributed $485,964 in fees and charitable contributions to the Greene County Commission, four Municipalities- Eutaw, Boligee, Forkland and Union, the Greene County Board of Education, the Greene County Health System and a number of charitable organizations. Greenetrack distributed another $71,000 to the same organizations.
This is $557,000 a month or $6,684,000 a year being distributed to Greene County agencies.
Under Marsh’s bill, the Greene County agencies are not guaranteed the funding they are receiving now. They are not “held-harmless” for the revenues they are losing. Under his bill a portion of the taxes paid by gambling casinos would be returned to the County Commission for use in the county. If the County Commission chose to distribute those funds in a way that is compatible to the current formula, then the agencies, municipalities and charities would be protected.
The public in Greene County has never known the amount of revenues flowing through the bingo establishments in Greene County. Therefore, we have never been clear if the funding received by Greene County agencies and charities is generous, equitable or stingy. We do know that only Greenetrack is owned primarily by Greene Countians and the others are owned by people outside the county.
The Marsh bill legalizes gambling statewide through the lottery and in specific places through casinos and sports betting. The revenues will be used for education, broadband, rural health care and other needed and worthy purposes. Electronic bingo in Greene, Lowndes, and other counties is under threat of closure by legal actions by the State of Alabama.
The Alabama Attorney General, backed by Alabama Supreme Court decisions is working to close electronic bingo in Greene, Lowndes and other places. This legal attack on electronic bingo could succeed in the next few years and would lead to unemployment and loss of revenues for Greene County that Marsh’s bill would legalize.
The bill does not deal with electronic bingo at the Porch Creek Indian gambling facilities at Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery, however, if the lottery and/or casino gambling is allowed in the state, the Porch Creek Indians would be allowed to expand their gaming under Federal gaming regulations. The Porch Creek Indians may also be induced to enter a “statewide gambling compact” to share revenues with the state to secure the Northeast Alabama gaming site, near Chattanooga.
The people in Lowndes County are also unhappy because they feel the electronic bingo establishments in their county are being left out of the Marsh bill. Senator Malika Sanders Fortier wrote a statement to the committee considering the bill that it be amended to be fair to Lowndes County, that has had bingo for almost twenty years providing jobs and income to a poor county in the Alabama Black Belt.
Senator Marsh has held hearings on his bill in the Alabama Senate but recently held up the bill to make changes and possibly add more casinos. If it is passed in the Senate, it will go to the Alabama House, where will be more discussion and possible changes. If passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor there would need to be an accompanying authorizing Constitutional Amendment, passed by a majority of voters in the state on the November 2022 general election ballot.
Greene County should watch and follow this debate closely as it impact the future of our county.
News Analysis By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher