It’s fortunate that there are two bills and negotiation over a House-Senate compromise may be needed. That process might keep these proposals off the ballot.
In their present form, neither of these bills is what Alabama needs. Both are flawed.
One amendment is pushed by gambling impresario Milton McGregor and a group that calls itself “Sweet Home Alabama.” The other is supported by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which has large bingo operations and owns 65 percent of Mobile Greyhound Park, the Mobile Press-Register reported.
Flawed as they are, the bills have much in common.
Both protect existing casinos from new competition. In each, only a few new operations would be allowed and they could be located only at specific “points of destination” — which would not be close to the favored few already in operation. Both bills also require substantial investments ($100 million) from any new casinos, which would keep out fly-by-night operations.
Beyond that, the bills are different.
The Sweet Home Alabama bill does not require the same capital investment from existing casinos as it does from new operations. Though it does provide for a significant tax on the establishments — money earmarked for education and Medicaid — the casino in Dothan would not pay the full levy for five years.
However, the Sweet Home Alabama bill would allow counties to become one of the points of destination by a constitutional amendment — which, considering the state’s convoluted Constitution, would be no easy matter.
Sweet Home Alabama also would allocate some of the gambling revenue to counties that do not allow gambling. That’s a provision reminiscent of the old wet-county-money-for-dry-counties compromise the state Legislature worked out years ago to get dry-county votes for counties going wet.
The Poarch Creek bill also would limit the number of casinos, allocate the revenue a bit more broadly and allow bingo at Mobile Greyhound Park.
If the Legislature is going to pass a gambling bill this session, it should consider legislation that would take worthwhile elements of the existing proposals. Any bill that is passed should set up a strong gambling commission to oversee operations and make sure tax money goes into state coffers for education and medical services. Legislators should also consider ending tax breaks for existing casinos and keeping the requirement for major capital investment by any gambling operation in the state.
Just as important is the need to explain — fully — why Alabama should allow electronic bingo in 10 locations. Why only 10? And, why those 10?
Crafting new legislation that creates either inequalities between the state’s 67 counties or nasty loopholes must be avoided.
It’s clear that Alabama needs clarity on gambling in the state. Inferior legislation that benefits the powerful or the few isn’t what Alabama deserves. This is time for Alabama to lucidly address this ongoing controversy.
A quality bill needs to pass and be sent to the people.
Then the people can decide.