Lottery-Gambling Bills leave many unresolved questions for Greene County

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.

Proposed Alabama Lottery and Gambling Bill will impact electronic bingo in Greene County

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.

Alabama Poor People’s Campaign holds rally at State Capitol steps in Montgomery in preparation for National Call for Moral Revival

Special to the Democrat by: Miriam Wright

Demonstartor on steps of Capitol.jpg

 

Demonstrators from the Poor People’s on steps of the Alabama State Capitol at
Monday’s rally. Photo courtesy of Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser.

A cold morning brought rays of sunshine this past Monday, February 6, 2018, to Alabama – along with more than 30 states plus Washington D.C. – helping roll out the National Poor People’s Campaign. Initiated by Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, leader of the ‘Moral Monday Movement’, this grassroots movement already has feet beginning to march across the nation in an effort to uplift human dignity.
On the steps in front of the state capitol in Montgomery, a non-denominational, non-partisan group of some 50 people gathered.

A podium was erected and a PA system sprung to life with the introduction of speakers including: Rev.Tonny Algood, United Methodist Inner City Mission, Mobile, Rev.Carolyn Foster, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Birmingham., Rev.James Rutledge, AME Zion Church, Birmingham., Imam Abdur Rahim Sabree, Muslim Center of Montgomery, Natividad Gonzalez, Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) Organizer, Birmingham – War Economy, Wanda, Bryant, Community Activist, Birmingham.- Poverty, Jelanie Coleman, Night of 1, Selma. Common threads were the reality of the level of poverty existing in our country today and the ills that have been perpetuated and increased as the result of being ignored for decades. The talks were to the point, addressing the issues of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation, all hot topics for the Campaign.
Like all other Poor Peoples Campaigns around the nation in their own capitols, Alabama’s delegation delivered letters to both branches of the Legislature, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
Campaign organizers Tonny Algood and Cara McClure delivered the letters to the legislators.
The letter read in part, “We demand a change in course… Our faith traditions and federal constitution all testify to the immorality of an economy that leaves out the poor, yet our political discourses consistently ignore the 140 million poor and low-income people in America.”
The letters also made clear that unless direct actions are taken immediately to address these chronic problems, there would be visible consequences in the way of a massive wave of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience, that the Poor People’s Campaign will initiate on Mother’s Day, May 12, 2018 and continuing for forty days.
This Poor People’s Campaign and National Call for Moral Revival will sweep the nation this spring, including Alabama if the conditions of poor people are not radically changed. In the words of Carolyn Foster, chair of the state PPC committee, “We have come to say clearly that a politics that ignores the poor has gone on far too long, and we will not be silent anymore.”
For more information and how to get involved go to:
Locally: http://www.facebook.com/AlabamaPPC/Nationally: http://www.poorpeoplescampaign;
and of course you will find each chapter on Facebook as well as Twitter.