However, Escambia County does have a growth industry that has ranked first nationally in its category for the last three years — Indian casinos.
For all intents and purposes, it now appears that Escambia County officials and their allies are out to kill the goose that could well lay a golden egg.
It is all about money.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians have tribal land in Escambia County; on this land they operate the popular Wind Creek Casino and Hotel. Because the Poarch Creek tribe is a federally recognized tribe, its land is a federal reserve and therefore exempt from state and local taxes. However, the tribe does contribute money to the county, though far less than it would if it was taxed by the local government. The casinos also employ many Alabamians who are not Indians.
All of this was fine until a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision on the expansion of a Rhode Island tribe’s land. That decision is being interpreted by the county as an opening for it to collect taxes from the Poarch Creeks. The tribe disagrees.
Add to the mix a widely held belief that if state and local tax laws apply to the tribe, then so might state gambling laws. If that is the case, then anti-gambling forces are primed and ready to shut the casino down.
However, if that happens, there will be no money to pay the taxes Escambia County wants paid.
To outsiders — including this page — the whole thing is beginning to border on the ridiculous. If local officials, as they claim, are not out to close down the casino, they should back off and wait for the federal government to clarify how the Rhode Island case affects other tribes. In the meantime, the Poarch Creeks need to sit down with Escambia officials and come to an agreement on what is logical and responsible for the tribe to contribute to the county — money and jobs, for instance — in lieu of taxes.
As for the pro- and anti-gambling interests, they should stay out of it.