Florala at a crossroads

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Florala Mayor Robert Williamson made an unsuccessful appeal to a state senate committee Tuesday to include Florala in the list of sites at which a proposed new bill would allow electronic bingo casinos.

The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee approved on a 6-2 vote a bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, which would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November to allow electronic bingo at 10 locations. Despite Williamson’s plea, the committee did not amend the bill to add Florala as an 11th location.

Williams said he spoke for three minutes during a public hearing held before the committee’s vote.

“I’d say my biggest statement was that, as mayor, it’s not my duty to tell people how to spend their money, but it is my responsibility to provide the people of Florala with a way to earn a living,” Williamson said of the estimated 1,500 jobs that would be created if a proposed bingo facility opened in Florala.

Monday, Williamson announced an agreement between the Florala Historical Society, a local non-profit, and a Gulf Shores developer representing the gaming industry to locate a 2,500-machine electronic bingo facility and entertainment complex in Florala.

Tuesday, the mayor was joined in his request for consideration by the Prichard mayor and the president of the Fairfield City Council, who each asked for their cities to be placed on the list.

The Bedford-sponsored bill would allow gaming at the Mobile Greyhound Park, VictoryLand, Greenetrack and Birmingham Greyhound Racing and two gaming facilities, Country Crossing and White Hall Resort and Entertainment Center, and allow the addition of a second location in White Hall and one location each in the 4th, 5th and 6th congressional districts in north Alabama to be chosen by a state gaming commission.

When asked if he thought his words were enough to get Florala included, Williamson said he wasn’t sure.

“Every time you make a statement on behalf of your city, you make a stand; however if (Tuesday’s presentation) was to the degree that I would like to see, time will tell,” he said.

Proponents of the statewide referendum plan to take it to the Senate now for a quick vote – possibly as early as Thursday.

House leaders said they don’t plan to take up the legislation until they see what happens in the Senate.

If the Legislature approves the proposed constitutional amendment, it won’t go to the governor for signing. Instead, it will go before the voters in a statewide referendum Nov. 2.

Republican Gov. Bob Riley called the bill “crooked.”