By John Zippert, Co-Publisher
Greenetrack CEO Luther “Nat” Winn held a press conference Tuesday in the parking lot of the facility to comment on the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision charging $76 million in sales tax due for the year’s 2004-2008. More than 200 employees, elected officials and interested citizens attended. There was coverage by all the TV stations serving the area and print media.
Winn said he never yet has received a tax bill from the State Department of Revenue and was operating under a sales tax exemption in the 1975 legislation creating the basis for pari-mutual betting on greyhound dogs at Greenetrack. This law was amended in 1986 and sales taxes were imposed on food sales and other ancillary items but not on wagering on races or bingo.
Winn indicated that Greenetrack had appeared before the Alabama Tax Tribunal on the issue of whether it had a tax exemption for electronic bingo and won the case.” We thought the issue was decided in our favor, but the State of Alabama appealed to Circuit Court. The State moved the case away from Greene County to a Republican Judge in St. Clair County and we won again. My lawyers tell me that no case from the Tax Tribunal has ever been reversed, like ours has by the Supreme C.”
“The State Attorney General Steve Marshall appealed the case to the Alabama Supreme Court, which issued a 53-page decision against us. They considered and ruled on issues that were not before them in the case. They calculated our sales taxes owed in a way that will put anyone running an electronic bingo business – out of business,” said Winn.
He called the decision of the Supreme Court, “absolutely and totally wrong, it equates to a political and financial lynching of our Black owned business.”
Winn said his lawyers were having difficulty finding a way to appeal the decision to Federal courts and he was asking for “people of good will in the state government in Montgomery to come to the table and negotiate a settlement for the past tax debt, if any, and a plan for taxes going forward.” When pressed by the news media, Winn refused to name a suitable figure for compromise since he felt they did not owe any back taxes and had a tax exemption, but we were willing to negotiate with the state in good faith.
“Based on the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision, it is no longer viable to operate electronic bingo at Greenetrack. We will have to switch to ‘historic horse racing’ similar to what they have at the Birmingham Racecourse,” said Winn. Historic horse racing is played on machines like electronic bingo machines, based on past horse races. The proceeds of these machines would be considered pari-mutual wagering and not subject to sales taxes. The proceeds of ‘historical horse racing’ would likely be distributed through the Greene County Racing Commission, based on prior legislation relating to greyhound dog racing.
Asked by the press about the impact of ending electronic bingo, Winn said he hoped to keep all of his 96 current employees working but he wondered how the other bingo licensees in Greene County could function under the Alabama Supreme Court’s sales tax rules on bingo. “We are a business that tries to follow the law. We have paid millions in Federal and State income taxes over the years, but we do not feel this decision that we owe state sales taxes, when we had a specific tax exemption in the law, is fair or correct,” stated Winn.
Once again, the State of Alabama has inserted itself in a dispute with Greene County institutions and people over the future of electronic bingo, which provides jobs and revenue for local government agencies and charities in the county. Is the State of Alabama and its Supreme Court operating from a vision of equity for Black and poor people or reverting to white supremacy and hostility to Black people who are trying to find solutions to their own problems.