Florala OKs video bingo

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Florala city council last night unanimously adopted an ordinance regulating electronic bingo inside the city limits — a move council members said was “purely for the economic benefits.”

“State law voted on in the mid-1990s allows bingo in Covington County,” Mayor Robert Williamson said. “The Covington County Commission has a right to regulate bingo in the county and, to date, has opted not to do so.

“The question still remains as to whether that regulation is applicable inside the city limits,” he said. “I am of the opinion that (electronic bingo) is coming whether we like it to or not, and I’d like to get ahead on regulating it, instead of someone dictating to us where the establishment goes and what rules it has.”

If a bingo facility opens in Florala, it will mean at least $697,000 in annual revenue for the city for the first two years, and a minimum of $1.2 million each year after that.

To approve the ordinance on the same night it was introduced, the council first had to vote to suspend its meeting rules. State law dictates that vote must be unanimous.

City attorney Wes Laird said he knows the city’s move will be met with opposition but it was his opinion — and the mayor’s opinion — that the council’s choice was a logical and legal one.

“As the mayor said, this (ordinance) was done because it appears that bingo is coming,” Laird said. “We can choose to regulate or not regulate. The county (commission) has chosen not to regulate, and cities are free to pass an ordinance to regulate permit fees in the city limits. Elsewhere (electronic bingo) has become a regulatory nightmare because no regulations are in place anywhere. Take Walker County — there’s a hodgepodge of bingo places that have been largely unregulated for quite some time. This ordinance places a lot of parameters on someone locating a facility in Florala.”

Williamson said the 15-page ordinance is “very precise.”

“It requires there be a certain size building, a certain number of machines, where the finances go,” he said. “If we didn’t have this in place and electronic bingo arrived, we wouldn’t have any control. (See related information box)”

“This way the city retains control of the regulations and all of Florala benefits,” he said.

Since the county commission has yet to enact any rules governing electronic bingo, Laird said the commission can now only “require additional regulations and additional tax (monies) to go the county. They can’t undo what Florala has done.”

In May, Williamson confirmed he had met with a representative from the electronic bingo industry. When questioned about the speed in which the ordinance was passed, Williamson confirmed he plans to meet “this week with those who have an interest in Florala.” However, he would not say who the representative was, what charitable organization is set to apply for a permit or any location of a temporary facility.

“I would say for the past 30 years Florala has been in an economic decline,” he said. “And the traditional way of thinking, of doing things was not getting the results we needed to see growth. This is our way of thinking outside the box and getting results.”