Bingo narrowly passes Senate

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Alabama Senate late yesterday passed a bingo bill that Florala’s mayor has said is “good news” for his city.

On a 21-13 vote taken about 6:15 last night in the Alabama Senate approved a bingo bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, that would allow Alabama residents to decide in November if they want to tax and regulate electronic bingo.

When the current version of Bedford’s bill was introduced last week, Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said the first bill would have made it impossible for his city to pursue electronic bingo as a means of economic development.

“We took it as a plus when the first bill didn’t pass,” Williamson said.

The version that passed the Senate yesterday would create a gaming commission and tax gambling in the state at least 25 percent. Bedford said the rate is three times higher than New Jersey and Nevada, but could be increased.

The five members of the gaming commission could not work for gambling interests for five years before or after serving on the commission; and gambling interests could not contribute to the campaigns of elected officials who appoint the commission members. The commission would have subpoena power and would be subject to the Alabama Ethics Commission.

Bedford’s original bill limited the locations of electronic bingo in the state and, his opponents said, gave monopolies to existing casinos. Bedford said the new legislation approved on Tuesday has no monopolies.

Instead, if the Legislature and voters approve the bill, lawmakers would come into special session next year and determine more of the details.

The measure must also pass the Alabama House of Representatives. Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said last week he expected the vote in the House would be close.

The only two Republicans who supported the bill are both from the Wiregrass. Sen. Jimmy Holley,R-Elba, and Sen. Harry Ann Smith, R-Slocomb, voted with 19 Democrats in favor of Bedford’s bill.