They weren't talking about football.
The ads were for Pearl River Resort, just across the Alabama state line near Philadelphia, Miss. They encouraged Alabamians to skip the bingo parlors and other gambling venues in this state and visit casinos where there are "real slots, real table games and a real chance to win."
The ads made an important point, as a recent report in the Dothan Eagle explained. They contended that Alabama's unregulated gambling might be rigged in favor of the house, and that Mississippi's casinos are state regulated and fair.
Alabama gambling worries Mississippi. It should. Alabama is one of Pearl River's biggest markets — in state or out. Same goes for the Mississippi coastal casinos, where surveys of patrons show that approximately 15 percent of their customers are from Alabama, according to the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
That's 635,000 Alabamians who drive to Mississippi every year to spend money gambling and eating, attending clubs and shows, going to the beach, seeing the sights and playing golf. Alabama's 15 percent looks even bigger considering that only 26 percent of Mississippi coastal casino patrons are from Mississippi.
Thus, it is little wonder that representatives from Mississippi casinos met last week to talk about launching a cooperative advertising campaign about gambling in Alabama. "We must all come together," the e-mail invitation read, "to help each other combat this problem for Mississippi gaming."
Mississippi casino operators have tried before to keep gambling out of Alabama. Some Alabama public figures and politicians, including Gov. Bob Riley, have been accused by opponents of taking money from casino operators in return for helping tamp down the competition. At least this current plan is more above the board.
While waiting to see what this new advertising campaign will contain — if it materializes — let's consider a number of factors behind Mississippi's concerns.
Never forget that Alabamians gamble. Lots of them, in fact. Many drive to Mississippi to do it. They also drive to other states; most of the largest lottery outlets in Georgia are just across the Alabama line. Same goes for lotteries in Florida and Tennessee, meaning Alabamians contribute to three state public education systems besides their own.
Even if the gambling that is legal in Alabama gives those who play a fair chance to win yet doesn't have a clear and consistent system of regulation, other states will spread the word that Alabama's gambling is not fair. Legalization and oversight is good for the patron and the industry.
It's also good for the state. A legal, well-regulated gaming industry would provide jobs and bring in needed revenue. In Mississippi, one casino produces more tax revenue in a year than the incentive-loaded Nissan plant that opened in Canton, Miss., in 2003, the Dothan paper reported. In Mississippi, casinos employ 22,858 workers, plus another 2,981 in casino-related hotels.
That prosperity won't be free. All states with gambling must address the social costs associated with it. Increased crime, family problems and other ills often are symptoms of increased gambling. However, as noted above, Alabama already has plenty of gamblers, but it has no mechanism to cope with whatever problems arise.
The bottom line is: It would be one thing if keeping casino gambling out of Alabama would keep Alabamians from gambling, but it hasn't. And it won't.
We understand why Riley is so opposed to gambling; it's admirable to stand up for one's convictions. But that stand is not helping Alabama. Let's urge the next governor to take a more pragmatic approach to the matter.