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Bingo rally planned Saturday in Montgomery

MONTGOMERY(AP) — Proponents of electronic bingo legislation are raising the tax level and bringing in prominent national figures to boost their cause in the Alabama Legislature.

The legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russelleville, said Monday negotiations have led to the tax rate being raised from 25 percent to 27 percent. The extra 2 percent would go to schools in counties where electronic bingo casinos are located.

But Jeff Emerson, communications director for Gov. Bob Riley, complained that the tax rate would still be lower than the rate in some other states.

“All the back room tinkering in the world won’t make this anything but a corrupt bill written by casino bosses for the benefit of casino bosses,” Emerson said.

Bedford needs 21 of the 35 senators to pass his bill. “We’re close to having them,” he said in a phone interview.

“I don’t think he’s got the votes,” said Republican Sen. Del Marsh of Annsiton. Marsh said he and his fellow opponents are counting 16 votes on their side.

Bedford said he hopes the Senate will begin debate on his bill soon. If it passes the Senate, it still must be approved by the House and then by Alabama voters in a statewide referendum Nov. 1.

In other developments Monday, former Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford said he and Montgomery businessman Greg Calhoun are organizing a march to the Capitol on Saturday, and they expect participation by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other prominent officials headed to Selma for Sunday’s 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Ford said the march to the Capitol is to show support for jobs created by electronic bingo casinos and to encourage the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow the closed casinos to reopen.

“This march is about jobs, justice and the opportunity to vote,” he said.

Macon County District Attorney Paul Jones issued a statement Monday saying he has inspected the shut down bingo machines at VictoryLand and believes they are legal.

VictoryLand’s casino closed Feb. 1 under the threat of a raid by the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling. The district attorney’s statement Monday didn’t change the governor’s view about the casino’s games.

“These are slot machines, and slot machines are illegal in this state,” Emerson said.