GOP claims votes to block new Alabama bingo bill

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 25, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Republican state senators who blocked a bill to tax and regulate electronic bingo said Wednesday they have enough votes to stop a new version that they called worse than the original.

Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, tried to get the Senate to begin debate on his original electronic bingo bill March 3, but he needed 21 votes and only got 18. Opponents, including some Democrats, had 16 votes.

This week he came back with a new, simpler bill, but the opposition remained.

“We are confident we have at least our 16 — 12 Republicans and four Democrats,” Senate Republican Caucus leader Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills said at a news conference.

Bedford said he will ask the Senate to address the bill “as soon as I can get 21 votes.”

His original bill specified 10 locations for electronic bingo casinos. The new version doesn’t say where electronic bingo casinos will be. If the Legislature passes the bill and if it is approved in a statewide referendum, then many details — including the casino locations — will be worked out by the Legislature and a state gaming commission.

Bedford said his new bill doesn’t promise anyone a monopoly and requires casinos to pay a minimum tax of 25 percent on the money left after paying winners.

But Republican Caucus members said the new bill is worse than the old one because it has no limit on the number of casinos, it allows casino operators to make unlimited campaign contributions to legislators, and it permits bingo machines to be played with one push of a button like slot machines.

“I don’t think they have any more votes than they had on the old version of the bill,” Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said.

While Bedford was hunting for votes for the bill, two casinos that had announced plans to reopen Wednesday postponed them. Country Crossing in Dothan and White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County decided to wait while the courts determine whether the state attorney general can take over the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling and stop raids on casinos.

Both casinos have been closed nearly two months to prevent a raid by the governor’s task force.

Republican Caucus members said Wednesday they are not taking a position on the legal feud between the Republican governor and the Republican attorney general.

Bedford, a former Democratic candidate for attorney general, figures Attorney General Troy King has the lead in the legal fight.

“It would appear to me the attorney general is the top law enforcement officer in the state,” Bedford said.