So much irony in GOP plan to fix budget with gaming

Published 12:43 am Saturday, April 25, 2015

For weeks, it has appeared the Alabama legislature was prepared to practically close government to avoid passing a dime of new taxes.

The General Fund budget – through which practically everything except roads and schools are funded in Alabama – is expected to be critically short of money, and Alabama’s Constitution requires the legislature to pass a balanced budget.

Many legislators have steadfastly refused to consider any of Gov. Robert Bentley’s revenue-generating proposals – not even an increase on cigarette taxes.

But late last night, Inside Alabama Politics shed some light on the legislature’s plan. According to IAP, Republican leaders in the Alabama Senate will propose and introduce gaming legislation next week which will include proposals for a state lottery, a gaming compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and authorization for the use of electronic gaming machines at seven locations. Those locations would be the three existing Indian casinos and the four existing race tracks in the state: Victoryland in Macon County, Greenetrack in Greene County, the Birmingham Race Course in Jefferson County and the Mobile Greyhound Park in Mobile.

According to IAP, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, will hold press conferences next week at which he will first release the results of a study commissioned to gauge the economic impact of gaming on Alabama, then unveil his gaming proposal.

Sources told IAP the plan would generate about $750 million per year.

A state lottery would require a Constitutional Amendment, i.e., a statewide vote. It has failed before.

The plan allegedly also encourages the governor to enter into a compact with the Poarch Creeks, allowing them to acquire property and build a fourth casino in north Alabama IF the tribe agreed that all locations would be taxed.

Finally, it would allow the expansion of electronic gaming (bingo) machines at the existing four dog tracks – which previously also had electronic gaming.

Dare we detail the irony here?

This proposal is from the same political party that, with then-Gov. Bob Riley at state helm, cowboy-ed up to eradicate gaming in the state. One cannot help but wonder how many state dollars have been spent to practically shutter Victoryland, Greentrack, and others that had electronic games. How many jobs were lost (thus reducing income taxes paid to the state, and sales taxes that would have been paid with wages, had they been earned) with those actions?

Experts have told us the very real hole in our General Fund budget was coming for the better part of a decade. Why did we not then seek a solution with gaming, rather than flush thousands – perhaps millions – shutting it down?

And then there is the Tribe. I wrote in this space last fall of having personally heard the Tribe’s two top leaders say, “What we have is working. We may not be interested in a compact.”

Because if Alabama does the other part of Sen. Marsh’s deal and passes a lottery, they believe they will legally be allowed to add table games to their existing facilities if they even want to. They’re pretty pleased with the way things are right now.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be a fascinating week.