Florala waits on state bingo action

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 18, 2010

One week after being issued a bingo permit, Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said Wednesday the city is in a “holding pattern” in its quest for electronic bingo, waiting to see what – if any – legislation is proposed in the coming days.

“We feel it’s currently in the best interest of the city to closely monitor what is going on at the state level and to make sure any proposed legislation does not leave Florala and Covington County out of the mix,” Williamson said.

There are 10 days remaining in this year’s legislative session. Two weeks ago, the Alabama Senate did not have enough votes to pass a bill that would allow the people to vote on the legality of electronic bingo. This week, the legislature has recessed for spring break.

Now, gaming interests, as well as municipal officials and businessmen statewide, are watching with interest to see what will happen next.

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma., has proposed a three-page bill, SB507, which had a first reading the day after the Sweet Home Alabama bill failed to get enough votes for discussion. SB507 proposes a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to pass laws authorizing, taxing and regulating bingo, including electronic bingo. A companion bill creates a charitable bingo licensure commission.

Republican Sen. Paul Sanford from Huntsville is proposing a bill not yet introduced that would tax electronic bingo parlors at 50 percent, establish a gaming commission and allow Alabama citizens to vote on legalizing gambling.

Neither bill limits the locations of gaming as the legislation that failed two weeks ago do.

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, who represents Covington County in the legislature, previously has said he would do what he could to make sure Florala had the same opportunities with electronic bingo as anyone else. Holley also supports letting Alabamians vote for or against legalized gambling.

A week ago, Sheriff Dennis Meeks issued the Florala Historical Society a bingo permit; however, Meeks has said the permit is for paper bingo only.

In January, the city council adopted a resolution setting minimum standards for an electronic bingo operation. In February, the city announced that the Florala Historical Society had entered an agreement with a developer in Gulf Shores to construct a gambling and entertainment complex in Florala, employing 1,500.