Bill may legalize electronic bingo

Published 11:59 pm Friday, March 20, 2009

Proponents of a bill that would allow electronic bingo at 14 locations in the state, including the Wiregrass, appear to be bracing for a fight to get the legislation through the Alabama Senate.

The Sweet Home Alabama Coalition last week mailed a direct mail piece to local voters, encouraging them to contact Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba), who also represents Covington County, and urge him to vote in favor of the legislation. The coalition, which has an Enterprise address, has been airing television spots statewide and today added newspaper to the mix, with an advertisement in The Star-News with a message similar to the one mailed to voters last week.

The bill, HB 676, has been approved by the House Tourism and Travel committee. According to the legislature’s online bill tracking service, it has had one of two readings in the House.

Sponsored by Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery), Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia) and Rep. Richard Lindsey (D-Centre), the bill proposes a Constitutional amendment authorizing bingo in certain counties, requires a state compact with Indian bingo facilities, levies taxes on bingo operations and limits electronic bingo to points of destination in the state. It also creates a state gaming commission.

If the bill gains approval from both houses of the legislature, it would be on the statewide primary ballots in June 2010.

At present, playing bingo for money is legal as long as the operation is run by or for the benefit of a nonprofit organization. But in its current bill, the state would collect up to 20 percent sales tax revenue from the organizations.

The new legislation also calls for Alabama’s Poarch Creek Indians, which operates casino-style bingo operations in Atmore and Wetumpka, to enter into a revenue-sharing compact with the governor by Jan. 1, 2014. At present, Poarch operates its facilities under a federal provision that allows gaming on tribal land held in federal trust. In the past, the tribe’s attempts to negotiate compacts with Alabama governors that would allow them to add table games have been unsuccessful.

If approved by Alabama voters as a Constitutional Amendment, the “Sweet Home Alabama” bill would limit electronic gaming to the state’s two existing racetracks, Whitehall bingo facilities, and planned Houston County facility. It also would allow Etowah, Green, Mobile and Walker counties and the city of Birmingham to license operators of electronic bingo within 90 days of the amendment’s passage.

Holley said Friday he’s already told Enterprise-based developer Ronnie Gilley he opposes the legislation. Gilley is developing the country-music themed Country Crossings in Houston County.