Riley’s image now ‘Bingo Bob’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Most folks were shocked when Gov. Riley declared that unlike every other state in the country Alabama was not plagued by nor should we worry about the financial crisis facing our state. The governor took two minutes to dismiss the economic woes in a Pollyanna display of optimism basing his budgets on a pie in the sky gamble that Congress would rescue us with another stimulus spending boondoggle. However, it was no surprise that Riley quickly moved to the subject of electronic bingo and spent nine minutes in a tirade against bingo in the state.

It has become obvious that the governor has made electronic bingo his paramount concern during his last year in office. To say that he is obsessed with this iniquity would be an understatement. At a time when every other governor in the nation is soberly and rationally wrestling with the daunting task of funding their state’s vital services, Riley is planning midnight raids on bingo parlors, which employ over 5,000 Alabamians and attract out of state business.

Riley has created a task force with dubious legality. Although our state constitution gives broad powers to the governor, it is debatable whether the governor can usurp the attorney general’s power. Attorney General Troy King has openly been the other side of the fence from the governor during this charade. King diplomatically, but adamantly, disagrees with the governor on whether the machines are legal. He has warned the governor that he has overstepped his boundaries and is treading on treacherous ground that could leave the state vulnerable and open to liability.

Despite King’s warnings, Riley has run roughshod over the attorney general and granted complete authority to his executively created task force. After Riley named David Barber head of the infamous task force, Barber quickly attempted to raid the New Country Crossing complex near Dothan. However, the local circuit judge and district attorney thwarted the raid. Barber, who grew restless while waiting to attack, went to a Mississippi casino to gamble and won at least $2,300.

This somewhat discredited Riley and his posse, especially considering the overwhelming evidence that these were the same Indian casinos that funneled close to $2 million into Riley’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign. This hypocrisy was not lost on the Houston County District Attorney who impolitely told the governor that not only did his task force lack authority but also credibility and asked that they kindly move their road show out of his county. Barber resigned in disgrace.

Undeterred, Riley then appointed Mobile District Attorney John Tyson Jr. In Riley’s zeal to continue his relentless, irrational crusade he failed to vet Tyson. It was later revealed that Tyson received over $100,000 from gambling interests in his losing campaign against Troy King for Attorney General in 2006. This was close to 10 percent of Tyson’s entire campaign receivables. Thus, his credibility is now somewhat in question. Furthermore, subsequent raids on Country Crossing and VictoryLand, directed by Tyson, were recently halted by restraining orders issued by local judges.

This whole scenario is perplexing to most Alabamians. Riley’s actions appear ludicrous. Alabamians can gamble online every hour of the day if they so choose. It is possible to purchase a lottery ticket via the internet from any state in America. There are ways to bet on every football game and sporting event. In fact, while Riley was in Pasadena watching the Alabama vs. Texas game and calling for a raid on Country Crossing there were probably 10,000 Alabamians betting on the outcome of the game. Under Alabama law that is equally as illegal as the bingo games. The only difference is that Alabama is one of the only states not deriving much- needed tax revenue from this form of gaming.

Riley’s charade makes him look nave, irrational and childish. It appears he rather play cowboys and Indians than solve the state’s real problems during his last year in office. He created a personal posse to chase down the cowboys but instructed his sheriff not to mess with the Indians. In fact, his sheriff was caught playing marbles with the Indians in their wigwam and won while waiting for his next chance to attack the cowboys.

This whole situation appears hypocritical at best and suspect at worse. On the surface, the question asked by most Alabamians is why the governor in his last year in office has gone overboard on this ubiquitous obsession. It looks even worse that the governor’s posse is never interested in raiding the Indian casinos in the state. Hopefully, there is no hidden motive.

It is disappointing that Riley, who spent seven years building a great reputation as an outstanding governor and a hallmark legacy as a premier industrial recruiter, has become perceived as somewhat of a joke. He will forever be remembered as “Bingo Bob.” Alabama is once again being ridiculed for being a backward, ignorant state that elects demagogues who spend precious state resources for dramatic self-serving, reactionary, schoolhouse door stands.

Prohibition taught us a valuable lesson that most of the country learned. You cannot wipe out alcohol and gambling. Therefore, the best solution is to regulate and tax it.

See you next week.