A state lawmaker who represents Macon County, knowing her legislation to allow machines played at Native American casinos to be played in her home county will not pass this year, said she is preparing for a fight next year.
“This is not about gambling to me. This is about fairness, equality and justice,” said Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee.
Warren argued it was not fair for VictoryLand, the casino in Shorter about 20 miles east of Montgomery, to be shut down and people to be out of work, financially devastating the county and its residents, while the three casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are prospering.
The House Commerce and Small Business Committee held a public hearing on the bill on Wednesday, but there is not enough time for the bill to pass with only two days left in the legislative session. Knowing the bill was dead, the committee did not vote on Wednesday.
Warren said she expects the proposal to be the first prefiled for consideration next year. She said time was dwindling in the session by the time the bill was ready to be considered.
“You can be assured this bill is not dead. It will surface,” Warren said after the public hearing.
The proposal would only affect Macon County.
State Sen. Bryan Taylor, a Prattville Republican who is one of the state’s most ardent opponents of gambling, said he “couldn’t help but laugh” after looking at the bill from a legal perspective.
Taylor, who worked for Gov. Bob Riley when he formed a task force to fight electronic gambling in the state, said federal officials indicated to Riley that the Poarch Creeks were able to operate slot machines, which are illegal in the state, because there was the same class of gambling at casinos in Macon County, Greene County, and Lowndes County.
Meanwhile, Taylor said, Warren’s proposal would turn around and allow what is acceptable at Poarch Creek casinos in other facilities.
Riley, Taylor and other opponents of so-called electronic bingo have said it is played on slot machines that are illegal in Alabama. The operators have argued that the machines play bingo and that it is allowed by local amendments to the state constitution that were approved by voters. Tribal officials also argue the machines at their casinos play electronic bingo that is legal in Alabama.
“Indians have been successful in proving their machines are bingo,” said James Anderson, attorney for Macon County Sheriff David Warren, who had an outside laboratory certify the machines at VictoryLand played electronic bingo before Attorney General Luther Strange obtained a search warrant to remove them.
But some committee members are not convinced.
“I believe they are slot machines. They’re not bingo machines. You just put a little card in the corner,” said Rep. Richard Baughn, R-Lynn.
Charlanna Spencer, an attorney for VictoryLand, said of the machines that were at the casino that “there is no question these are electronic bingo games.”
Baughn said, when there was electronic bingo in his home county, “bingo sucked the life out of Walker County citizens.”
“Many businesses saw their customer base drop,” he said. “The money was being spent there and not the businesses. The restaurants suffered.”
Baughn said they could not allow illegal gambling in one county.
Joe Godfrey, executive director of the faith-based Alabama Citizens Action Program, said he had to dust off his arguments against gambling because the Legislature had not dealt with the issue in a couple of years. Godfrey said, in a feeder market like Macon County that is not a tourist destination, that 80 percent of the customers come from within 40 miles, which he said “represents cannibalism of existing business of all types.”
“The bottom line is VictoryLand has no money, the money comes out of the pockets of losers,” he said.
Warren, the state representative who is married to the sheriff, said she wants VictoryLand to be able to open its doors and create revenue for Macon County.
She said the schools, volunteer fire departments, charitable organizations, and so many other entities benefited from the revenue from VictoryLand. Warren said Montgomery, Elmore and Escambia Counties are benefiting from contributions from the Poarch Creek casinos there while her county suffers.
“Right now, Macon County is at an all-time low,” she said. “ … I don’t think Macon County can survive another six months.”
And Warren said it would be a false statement to say there is not gambling in Alabama. Tribal officials have told the Montgomery Advertiser business has increased since VictoryLand closed.
“The Poarch Creek Indians are not required to give Alabama one penny,” she said.
– posted by Sebastian Kitchen