Ala bingo bill in doubt as House debate nears

Published 11:55 pm Monday, April 19, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Legislators on both sides of the electronic bingo issue said Monday that supporters of a bill to tax, regulate and legalize the games in Alabama appear to be a few votes short of what’s needed to pass it in the Alabama House.

But the sponsor of the bill, Democratic Rep. Marcel Black of Tuscumbia, said he is continuing to count votes and feels the outcome could break his way.

“Hopefully by the end of the day, we’ll have the votes,” Black said.

The electronic bingo bill is the first issue scheduled for debate in the House on Wednesday, the next-to-last day of the 2010 session. The bill has already passed the Senate and must receive 63 votes in the 104-member House to go to voters for a statewide referendum in November.

The bill comes up for debate after federal authorities revealed an investigation into possible corruption in the Legislature involving the bingo bill. An attorney for the Democrats said last week that the disclosure of the probe had a “chilling effect” on lawmakers preparing to vote on it.

A bingo bill supporter, Democratic Rep. John Rogers of Birmingham, said he believes supporters are at least three votes short.

An opponent, House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard of Auburn, said most Republicans and a few conservative Democrats continue to oppose the bill and predicted it would fall at least six votes short.

“I haven’t come across any changed minds,” Hubbard said.

Black said it’s important that people get a chance to vote on the issue “and get it behind us, yeah or nay.” He admitted to being nervous as Wednesday’s debate approaches.

“It’s kind of like you always have butterflies right before kickoff,” Black said.

Hubbard said opponents believe the bill is bad public policy, particularly a provision that would allow the Legislature to come back later and set rules for the bingo operations if the amendment is ratified.

Some opponents are trying to prevent the issue from coming up for debate Wednesday.

Republican Rep. Mike Ball of Madison has filed a resolution asking the Alabama Supreme Court to decide if the bingo amendment legally passed the Senate and is properly before the House for debate. Ball’s resolution claims that the bill would not have received the needed 21 votes in the Senate without the vote of Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.

The resolution says Sanders has said in television interviews that his law firm represents a group seeking to open an electronic bingo operation in Lowndes County. Ball said Sanders’ vote should not have been counted because the Alabama Constitution prevents lawmakers from voting on issues in which they have a personal interest.

Sanders said Monday he studied the issue before voting in the Senate and found it’s not a conflict of interest to vote on a bill that might have an effect on a client.

“My vote was legal. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Sanders said.

Ball’s resolution has been referred to the House Rules Committee and has not come up for a vote.