The time to pass state gaming legislation was years ago. Because our Alabama legislature hasn’t, the state has missed out on billions of dollars in past tax revenue, but that’s water under the bridge. It’s never too late and the opportunity for the legislature to finally do something has never been better.
Gaming is no longer a partisan issue: the majority of voters want the opportunity to vote, the state needs the revenue that would be generated from a comprehensive legislative gaming package, it’s an election year and gambling (both legal and illegal) is already widespread in Alabama. Why are we not taxing the hell out of it?
This week marks the first anniversary of my father’s death. If you knew him or read him, it wouldn’t surprise you to know that were he still with us, he’d be writing about this issue. I write this column in his memory, though not in his eloquent manner.
Unlike my dad, I don’t write about the state’s gambling issues often. The last time I walked in a casino was at least a decade ago, unless you count the Las Vegas airport.
I’m not against gambling. In my younger days I played my share of poker and occasionally found myself occupying a seat all night at a blackjack table in Mississippi - never playing with more than I was willing or able to lose. And like many, I’ll bet $10 on the occasional ballgame, if only to keep a boring game interesting. Nowadays most of my gambling involves the stock market – possibly the riskier investment.
Dad wasn’t much of a gambler either. Other than a yearly guys’ trip to Biloxi, the occasional jaunt to VictoryLand and the weekly football pool, he was more often than not a spectator on the sidelines like myself – cheering on our high rolling friends.
But he was a staunch believer that Alabama should make gaming legal and he shared that opinion often on this page.
Earlier this month the Alabama Track Owners Association, comprised of The Birmingham Race Course, Greenetrack Bingo & Racing, Mobile Greyhound Park, and VictoryLand, launched a media blitz laying out the case for the legislature to pass a constitutional amendment to allow the people a vote.
“Alabama is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in gaming and lottery revenue to Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. This continues to happen year after year because the Alabama State Legislature has not approved the comprehensive gaming and lottery plan that would give the people of Alabama the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment. If the constitutional amendment approving the comprehensive gaming and lottery plan were to pass, the State of Alabama would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue that could be used to fund Alabama priorities including broadband, healthcare, college & trade school scholarships, new job growth, workforce development, and new business opportunities.”
Alabama is losing $700 million a year in gaming revenue. Imagine for a moment what that kind of money going into the state coffers each year could do to help improve the state. Rural broadband, college scholarships, better health care, tax cuts… the options are plenty, as the ad suggests.
Built on sovereign tribal land, the Poarch Creek Indians’ casinos have been operating (without table games) for more than 30 years – two of those casinos are less than 10 miles from Montgomery. VictoryLand and other tracks have operated similar bingo slot machines and simulcast horse and dog racing for years, so it’s not like you can’t already gamble in Alabama, the state just isn’t reaping the benefits.
The Alabama legislature hasn’t given voters the opportunity to vote on a statewide gambling measure since a proposed lottery was defeated in 1999. Alabama is one of only five states that doesn’t have a lottery and the casinos already exist. The time is now for the Alabama legislature to pass gaming legislation that is profitable for the state and fair to the longstanding stakeholders that include the state’s four “tracks” and the Poarch Creek Indians.
Governor Kay Ivey is on record saying she supports letting the people vote. Governor, now’s the time. Call a special session. There is a passable gaming package ready. In six days’ time the legislature could get this done. Keep your promise to the people of Alabama.