Bingo bill dead; Legion blames false information

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 7, 2006

It looks as though the proposed legislation to legalize bingo for charity in Butler County is dead. Meeting with members of Butler County Post 24 of the American Legion Thursday night, Representative Charles Newton told the Legionnaires that the bill (HB486) had not gotten a positive response and suggested that the bill &#8220be carried over for a while.”

&#8220We've got too many obstacles to overcome because of the climate in the state relating to gambling,” Newton said. &#8220We've just got too many obstacles to overcome.”

The bill, which was modeled after similar legislation that has been in place in Covington County for more than a decade allows non-profit organizations in the county to run charity bingo games with 100 percent of the profits going toward charitable or educational purposes. It also disallows the organization from paying a salary to anyone involved in administering the games or any consulting fees.

The legislation quickly drew the attention of the Christian Coalition of Alabama who sent an email to people in the county with what Post 24 member Col. Eric Cates called &#8220totally false” information.

&#8220It took the approach that our bill was like Macon County's bill,” he said. &#8220All we intended to do here was raise some money for charitable endeavors and scholarships.”

Cates said he was most upset by the people who re-circulated the email without knowing the facts of what the legislation and its intent was all about.

In the email the organization called the legislation a &#8220bingo casino” bill and claimed it was identical to the Macon County dog track bill, something Newton said was wrong.

&#8220I know they've got a job to do and a position they have to take, I just want them to be factual in what they do,” he said. &#8220We knew we had to model (the bill) after something, so we looked at Covington County's bill and it strictly prohibits any type of salary be paid which differs from the Macon County or Lowndes County bills which say you may contract with someone to run the games.”

Both Macon and Lowndes County have what many people consider to be casinos where patrons play electronic bingo games that look like slot machines. The Butler County bingo games would be the old card-style games.

Haywood Palmer, the former commander of the Covington County Legion Post said recently the organization there has made a significant impact in funding scholarships and other worthy causes.

&#8220The last two years I gave out $96,000 in scholarships,” he said. &#8220We gave $5,000 to little league baseball and handouts to numerous veterans and others. All the time I'm handing out this money I'm thinking ‘why can't was do this in Butler County?'”

&#8220The only thing we were trying to do is legalize what a number of others are already doing,” said Cates who alleged illegal bingo games are run all over the state. &#8220What we were trying to do would have been very good for the community. It would have been good for the Legion - but mostly good for the community.”