Could bingo save county?

Published 11:59 pm Friday, May 1, 2009

County Commission Chairman Lynn Sasser said Friday the county must find new revenue somewhere, and bingo might have been the answer.

Asked if the county had considered electronic bingo as a means of possible revenue, Sasser said it is not an option now.

“We had it in mind with that 565 amendment and we were thinking about ways to help this county, but not now,” Sasser said.

In March, the commission unanimously approved a resolution asking House Speaker Seth Hammett (D-Andalusia) and Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba) to repeal one of two Alabama laws that affect gaming in Covington County. If House Bill 821 had passed in the legislature this year, it would have repealed legislation from 1993 that sets rules for charitable bingo in Covington County.

Once those rules were repealed, the only governing legislation for charitable bingo in Covington County would be Constitutional Amendment 565, approved by statewide vote in 1994. That amendment gives the county commission the authority to “promulgate rules and regulations for issuing permits or licenses and for operating bingo games within the county.”

Sasser did not say why bingo is no longer a revenue option for the county. But both Hammett and Holley said earlier this week HB 821 will not pass in the current session of the legislature. The Covington Baptist Association also has approved a resolution strongly opposing the expansion of local gaming.

But Sasser said the county needs more revenue.

“I am passionate about this county and ways this county might be better,” he said. “We need to work on the financial situation of this county.

“We still have the freedom of personal choice,” Sasser said. “I may not choose to play bingo personally because of my personal convictions, but I’m not going to hold it against my friend who chooses to play bingo.”

Using bingo as a revenue source is a personal choice, he said.

“First of all, it goes back to personal choice. What needs to be done, is it needs to be voted on. Let the people make the choice. The majority wins.

“If the situation arose, I would not be opposed to letting the people decide on either a sales tax or an ad valorem tax or bingo,” Sasser said. “In my opinion, we have got to have some revenue and those are the three options, but we need to let the people decide.

“That’s what’s on my mind, and I haven’t talked to the other commissioners. If the people vote, then it’s settled but we’ve got to have revenue.”

At least two commissioners are hopeful the county can manage its budget in other ways.

District 3 Commissioner Harold Elmore said he hopes FEMA funds, expected to be awarded in coming months as a result of spring flooding that damaged roads, will help.

“I hope it helps get us through hard times,” he said.

District 4 Commissioner Carl Turman said he thinks progress on the county’s budget can be made with belt tightening, something he said he has worked hard at in his district.

“We’ve worked on it, and my men have tried real hard,” he said. “The commissioners have got to get a handle on spending.”

“We have to find a way to get county back into the black. But dear God, I don’t think it’s gambling.”

District 1 Commissioner David Ellis and District 2 Commissioner Bragg Carter could not be reached for comment.

In Alabama, county commissions can only impose taxes for schools. If the county wanted to raise sales taxes or ad valorem taxes, the change would have to be approved by the state legislature, which is slated to end its 2009 session in two weeks.

Constitutional Amendment 565 permitting bingo in Covington County was approved by a statewide vote in 1994.