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Don’t give Alabama businesses the shaft again

To no one's surprise, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall released a statement Monday afternoon declaring his opposition to a comprehensive gambling bill scheduled for consideration in the Alabama House of Representatives this week.

Marshall said the bill, which would establish a statewide lottery, sports betting and location for 10 casinos in the state, is bad because it doesn't solve our problems and rewards the bad actors of the past. Ta.

Honestly, I don't know what Marshall means when he says this bill won't solve our problems. In fact, he established a commission to regulate and enforce gambling laws, and by strengthening Alabama's gaming laws, he has solved nearly every problem related to gambling. It also could help other states across the state by using the new bucket of tax revenue from the illegal industry that Marshall claims is thriving in the state to pay for a range of long-lasting issues like education, health care and mental health. Many of the problems have also been resolved.

But Marshall's other reason for opposing the bill, that it would reward bad actors of the past, is actually a much older argument that keeps coming up every time gambling legislation is debated. Typically, and this case is no exception, this bill is brought forward by someone who for some reason wants to repeal this bill, even though there is no real argument against it. .

This is also complete BS. Especially this time.

Let me explain: Current law limits casino locations to certain counties and one city: Birmingham. According to Rep. Andy Witt, one of the bill's main authors, these counties and Birmingham were chosen because all but one county voted in favor of approving some form of gaming. It is said that this was because he had thrown a . Most of them approve Class III games. They have experience with gambling sites and want to expand their gaming options.

One location that is an exception is an undetermined location in northeast Alabama. However, in that case, casino owners must first obtain local approval before choosing a location.

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The bill does not require new casino locations to be tied to specific locations such as Victoryland or Birmingham Racecourse. For Birmingham, only county or city.

Certainly, there are some advantages to these counties and Birmingham's current operators. That's because most operators have been operating in the state for decades and have long-standing relationships with local and state leaders. But shouldn't it be so? In fact, shouldn't we be incentivizing some benefits for longtime business owners in Alabama?

In any case, Marshall argues that giving these people any benefits is retribution for bad actors who have “blatantly defied” Alabama's laws in the past.

And that's total trolling.

In fact, due to Alabama's complex laws related to gambling and the ever-evolving and highly selective enforcement of Alabama Supreme Court decisions, there have been long, 20-year-long battles over gambling in some of these locations. A legal battle was triggered. At one point, the state's former AG tried to shut down Poarch His Creek's facility, even though it operated under federal law on tribal land.

To illustrate how complicated and complicated it all is, the recent case where Marshall and his office shut down various electronic bingo casino operations in the state was not a criminal matter. Marshall filed a civil suit against the facility for causing a public nuisance.

To my knowledge, and I have gone back and reviewed as many records as I can find, no one associated with a facility operating at the location proposed in the current bill has ever been arrested. He has never been arrested or charged with a crime. Related to illegal gambling in this state. So if these people were clearly violating our laws, at least one of them would have been charged with something. But that's not the case.

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The reason is that there are, and always have been, big questions regarding the legality of the game.

Take Macon County, for example. In the early 2000s, Macon County legislators managed to get a constitutional amendment passed through the Legislature. This is the latest bingo amendment to allow bingo games to be played within the county, which is a requirement since all forms of gambling are illegal in Alabama unless there is a county-specific amendment to allow this. It has become.

Macon County voters then went to the polls and voted overwhelmingly in favor of “Las Vegas-style gambling” coming to Macon County after months of debate. The amendment made county sheriffs responsible for approving and regulating all gaming within their county.

By this time, federal law had long established that electronic bingo games were an acceptable form of bingo on tribal lands. This led the Porch Creek family to operate electronic gaming in their casino stores.

VictoryLand in Macon wanted to be in the game. After receiving approval from the local sheriff, they began operating their own electronic bingo casino. This wasn't a secret. The governor awards the late Milton McGregor, former owner of Victoryland, with the Businessman of the Year award for being Macon County's largest employer and one of the state's largest employers. did.

Then, all of a sudden, that same governor decided that electronic bingo was illegal. And he ordered it closed.

The AG at the time disagreed with him. The local sheriff, a constitutional officer, disagreed with him. The state court disagreed with him.

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But the Alabama Supreme Court sided with him. He announced his opinion that all bingo should be the traditional form of bingo.

What followed was a years-long legal battle. The state argued that the Supreme Court set the law. Casino operators argued that it was the people and the Constitution that established the law. Round and round, over and over again.

But this was not a question of criminal activity. These casinos (located in the counties mentioned in the bill) were not operating in secret. They weren't trying to hide from law enforcement. Their argument has always been that they are legal and trying to stay within the law.

Several years ago, the former Dog Track locations, which still hold pari-mutuel gaming licenses, began operating new games with Marshall's approval. At great expense, we removed the old electronic bingo machines and replaced them with historic horse racing machines. All in an effort to comply with the state's ever-changing and very strange gambling laws.

Sorry, but they don't sound like bad actors. They sound like solid businessmen who had to fight hard to survive after being heavily pursued by the government.

Let's not do it again.

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