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Bingo debate continues

“Cumulatively speaking, it’s all good news for Florala,” Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said Thursday as electronic bingo began making headlines statewide again.

Earlier this week, a new “simpler” electronic bingo bill was presented by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.

It is his second attempt at the measure after his original bill was blocked March 3. In its initial form, the bill specified 10 locations throughout the state as “points of destination” for electronic bingo casinos. The new version of the bill does not.

Williamson said he’s pleased with the ongoing discussions as long as Florala remains “in the mix” as a possible location for electronic bingo.

“Nothing that has occurred over the last five weeks has dampened our plans,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it has enhanced our belief we’re on the right path.”

When questioned as to his reasoning behind the statement, he said, Cumulatively speaking…with SB380, Florala wasn’t even on the bill, so we took it as a plus that it didn’t pass. Then considering the indication that Troy King may take over the (Governor’s) Task Force on Illegal Gambling, we see that as a plus. He appears to be more open to the belief that the laws (governing bingo) are open to interpretation; whereas (Gov. Bob Riley) and John Tyson (of the governor’s task force) seem to think there is no ambiguity in the laws.

“Since the beginning, we have pursued electronic bingo as a means of economic development,” Williamson said. “So, where legislation is concerned, our main concern is that Florala and Covington County be kept in the mix.”

If the Legislature passes the bill and if it is approved in a statewide referendum, then many details – including the casino locations – will be decided by the Legislature and a state gaming commission.

Republican Caucus members have stated they believe the new bill is worse than the old, claiming, 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.

Included in the bill is a provision that would require casinos to pay a minimum tax of 25 percent on proceeds remaining after winners are paid.

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, has stated previously he will ask that Florala be added to the list of points of destination if the bill makes it up for debate.

Bedford needs 21 votes for the Senate to address the bill.