State Senator Bobby Singleton submitted a bill, SB 324, to the Alabama Senate’s Local Legislation Committee for a Constitutional Amendment to legally allow for pari-mutuel wagering on historic horse racing on computerized machines in Greene County.
The bill also provides for levying a tax on pari-mutuel betting on the computerized historic horse racing machines of up to 4% for local distribution and 1% to the State of Alabama. The amendment includes the licensure and operation of a racetrack, and the distribution of fees, taxes and other funds collected, by the Greene County Racing Commission.
If this legislation passes during this legislative session and is signed by the Governor, it will then be subject to a referendum by the voters of Greene County at the primary election in 2024 or at a special election if one is held before 2024.
This Constitutional Amendment closely parallels one that created a racing commission and greyhound dog racing in Greene County in the 1980’s. When live dog racing ended, simulcasting of dog and horse racing continued at Greenetrack, under the pari-mutuel wagering rules, supervised by the Greene County Racing Commission, appointed by the Greene County legislative delegation.
The voters of Greene County then authorized the playing of electronic bingo, under the licensing and supervision of the Greene County Sheriff, in Constitutional Amendment 743. The Sheriff licensed a number of bingo charities and bingo operators, four of which remain. They are: Bama Bingo, Frontier, Palace and River’s Edge.
Greenetrack, which pioneered the development of electronic bingo in Greene County, was forced to give up its bingo machines earlier this year, when the Alabama State Department of Revenue assessed the company with a $76 million dollar sales tax bill. Greenetrack contested the sales tax assessment as illegal and unfair. The state tax was based on all funds wagered on bingo machines rather than the resulting profits generated for the operator and charities.
Electronic bingo in Greene County is under threat from a lawsuit by State Attorney General Steve Marshall, which is working its way through the courts. This case will eventually wind up in the Alabama Supreme Court, which in other cases defines bingo as a game played on paper cards and regards the electronic bingo machines as illegal slot machines. At a recent hearing, retired Circuit Judge Arthur Haynes, set a trial date in the Greene County case for October 2023. The future of bingo in the county is unclear and unsure.
Greene Entertainment Company, headed by Luther Winn, the prior main stockholder in Greenetrack, secured a license, earlier this year, from the Greene County Racing Commission, to operate pari-mutuel historic racing machines at the former Greenetrack facility.
The proposed Constitutional Amendment, submitted by Senator Singleton and Representative Travis would allow the voters of Greene County to set the framework for computerized historic horse racing in the county and the distribution formula for any revenues derived from these pari-mutuel wagering opportunities. The voters of Greene County will have a say in the matter, when they vote to approve or disapprove the proposed amendment at a future election.
The Democrat, received a statement from J. W. McFarland Jr. of the TS Police Support League, the charity connected with the Palace Bingo operation, objecting to Senator Singleton’s filing of SB324. McFarland argues that Greene Entertainment is trying to set up a monopoly control of electronic historical horse racing in Greene County. He also argues that Greene Entertainment was set up by Greenetrack to avoid paying the state sales tax debt and that the Greene County Racing Commission should not be working with a corporation that will not pay taxes owed to the state of Alabama.
The distribution formula for revenues generated by computerized horse racing in Greene County is spelled out in detail. Most of the public agencies like the County government, School Board, Hospital, Ambulance Service would share in the funding. Other smaller non-profits and groups getting assistance from electronic bingo are also included in the bill for some portion of the funds to be distributed.
The current Greene County Racing Commission, consisting of Linette Brown, Donald Means and Morris Hardy are in strong support of the legislation and urge Greene County citizens to contact their legislators and others in Montgomery to pass this proposed Constitutional Amendment.
Efforts at press time to reach Senator Singleton and Representative Curtis Travis to get an assessment of the status and chances for passage of the legislation were unsuccessful.