Bingo bill causes concern

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Members of the Covington County Commission Monday expressed their concern over a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit commercial gaming facilities here and also exclude the county from receiving a share of gaming taxes.

Covington County loses all the way around, commissioners said.

The proposed constitutional amendment, which could be taken up by the Alabama Senate as early as today, would allow the state’s largest electronic bingo casinos at Country Crossing, VictoryLand, Greenetrack and White Hall to operate without the threat of raids. The bill would also allow electronic bingo casinos to open at the dog tracks in Jefferson and Mobile counties and four other locations. The casinos would be taxed and regulated by a state gaming commission, which the bill establishes.

If the amendment gains the approval of the state legislature, it will go before Alabama voters later this year. If voters approve it, gaming operations would pay 20 percent of gross earnings in state taxes, and an additional five percent 5 percent (approximately $42.5 million) to be divided among non-bingo counties based on population.

District 1 Commissioner David Ellis opened Monday’s discussion by questioning county attorney Julie Moody on the local ramifications of the legislation.

“I understand (the measure) to say that due to us having a constitutional amendment (allowing charity bingo), we would be left out, which means we’d get nothing,” Moody said. “Now, that’s the way (the legislation) is currently written as of Friday – that’s my understanding.”

If the new legislation is approved, local charities currently offering “traditional” bingo authorized by a constitutional amendment for Covington County could continue to operate. At present, only the American Legion operates bingo here.

But that local amendment also prohibits Covington County from receiving a cut of the proposed gaming tax to be distributed to counties.

Moody said she understood that “six or seven” counties like Covington are set to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

“I don’t know what we can do,” Moody said. “The bill can be amended for those six or seven counties to push for their portion of the 5 percent.”

“So, basically, if it passes as is, the way it’s presented, we’re out. We get nothing,” Ellis said. “Why are they penalizing us? I don’t get it.”