News Analysis by John Zippert, Co-Publisher
The Lottery-Gambling Bill which passed the Alabama State Senate failed in the Alabama House of Representatives on the last day of the session. The bill as passed by the Senate created an Alabama Lottery with most proceeds going to higher education scholarships and established casino gambling at six designated locations in the state, with proceeds going to the state’s general fund for broadband expansion, rural health care support and other priorities. The bill provided for casino gambling with slot machines and table games, such as Blackjack, Roulette and others, at places in the state that previously had dog racing and some new locations. Casino gaming was specifically provided at Greenetrack in Greene County, Mobile, Birmingham, Shorter (Victoryland in Macon County), Dothan and a new facility in the northeast corner of the state (near Chattanooga, TN.). The lottery and gaming regulation was placed under the control of a statewide commission and tax revenues flowed to the state. There was also a provision that some portion of the taxes would be returned to the local jurisdictions where gaming facilities were located. The Porch Creek Band of Choctaw Indians that own and operate electronic bingo gambling, on tribal land, at Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery would be allowed to upgrade their gambling operations to table games, under Federal regulations. The Porch Creek interests were allowed to compete for the new location in NE Alabama. There were also provisions allowing a compact between the State of Alabama and the Porch Creek Band relative to revenues from gambling. There were many groups and interests in Greene County who opposed the bill because it did not answer some issues and questions they had. Greene County voters overwhelming approved Constitutional Amendment 743, in November 2003, which allowed electronic bingo in the county. The licensing and payment of monthly fees and charitable contributions is governed by the Sheriff of Greene County. Currently there are six licensed bingo operations in Greene County – Greenetrack, Bama Bingo, Frontier, River’s Edge, Palace and Marvel City. There were five operating bingo enterprises during the last legislative session. These bingo operations employ 300 to 500 persons in their operations, most of whom are Greene County residents. Greenetrack is responsible for approximately 100 of the employed positions. For the month of April 2021, the five bingo operations contributed $600,948.87, based on fees per machine, to the Greene County Commission, Greene County Board of Education, Greene County Health System, Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union and Boligee, as well as a group of non-profit charitable organizations. Greenetrack provided $71,000 to the same government and municipal agencies. These agencies receive over $7 million a year in revenues from the bingo operations. The heads of these agencies are quick to say without these bingo revenues they would have a difficult time in providing necessary services to the residents of Greene County. The major unresolved questions in the effort to create statewide lottery and casino gambling were what happens to the other bingo operations in Greene County, if Greenetrack becomes the only officially designated gambling site in Greene County. What happens to the other bingo halls in Greene County? Will they have to close? Will they have to lay off their employees? What guarantees are there to the county agencies, including the schools, health system and municipal governments, that receive $7 million a year in revenues from bingo, that these funds will be continued or replaced with other funds? The lottery/gambling bill died in the legislature this session but it will surely be revived again in a future special or regular legislative session. The questions we have raised in this article and that are on the minds of Greene County residents remain unresolved. Greene County is a special case, we and Lowndes County, already have an established electronic bingo industry, which was not taken into consideration in the debate on the lottery/gambling bill in this year’s session. We must take actions to assure our interests and concerns are considered in future discussions of gambling in Alabama. The Democrat will stay on top of this issue and welcomes letters and comments from our readers.