Mayor: Florala still wants bingo

Published 2:21 am Saturday, October 9, 2010

When Florala Mayor Robert Williamson heard that 11 people were indicted in an alleged vote-buying scheme on a proposed electronic gaming bill, he cringed.

Still, the news was not enough to make city officials change their minds about pursuing electronic gaming as viable revenue source for the city, he said.

“I know people are thinking, ‘This guy is crazy. It’s over,’ ” Williamson said. “When I feel like it’s a dead issue, I’ll admit it. But, I don’t think we are anywhere near that yet.”

The 11 indicted include four state senators, VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley, lobbyists and one state employee are charged with conspiracy, bribery and mail fraud. Their alleged actions were described as “a corrupt network whose aim was to buy and sell votes in the Alabama legislature in order to directly benefit the business interests of two defendants, McGregor and Gilley” and were discovered through an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

Williamson said he doesn’t want to see the alleged actions of a few “taint” public perception.

“The thing is all corruption should be dealt with, and if these indictments hold true, those involved need to be punished,” he said. “But don’t let this one act taint the whole perspective (of electronic gaming). To me, it’s going to be an issue – if not ‘the’ issue – in the next legislative session. It’s my opinion that whomever is elected in November will have a sway on which direction it goes when it comes up.

“Regardless, even though I’ve been called ‘Foolish in Florala,’ it’s still my opinion that this is an option for us,” he said.

Gubernatorial candidates Dr. Robert Bentley, the Republican candidate opposed to electronic gaming, and Ron Sparks, a Democratic proponent, have each pledged to give Alabamians an opportunity to vote on the issue.

Last February, the non-profit Florala Historical Society signed an agreement with a Gulf Shores developer who has proposed building an entertainment complex in Florala that would include a full-service restaurant, sandwich shop, retail, entertainment venue and hotel.

If the project comes to fruition, it could mean an estimated $10 million in annual charitable donations spread throughout the county, jobs for 1,500 people and an untold amount in sales tax revenue; however, ongoing legal issues surrounding the concept of electronic bingo statewide has prohibited the developer from moving forward with the project.