Gaming regulation?|PCI backs Keahey bill
By By Adam Prestridge
special to the standard
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians on Friday endorsed a bill that officials there said would limit, regulate and tax gaming facilities in the state.
Senate Bill 381 — sponsored by Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, who also represents Escambia County — would set up a gaming commission and limit commercial gaming to the six sites where it exists and two others to be determined by the commission. The proposed Alabama Bingo Control Act would also tax those gaming facilities and require them to make substantial investments not only in gaming but in other enterprises.
The bill is the latest effort to regulate gaming, amid a political and legal fight waged over the last few weeks between Gov. Bob Riley’s illegal gambling task force and owners of commercial gaming facilities in the state.
The task force last week attempted to raid two facilities — VictoryLand in Shorter and Country Crossing in Dothan — but was stopped by a district court ruling. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the lower courts did not have subject matter jurisdiction to halt the raids.
In the meantime, both facilities have closed, and Country Crossing employees began filing for unemployment Wednesday, the Dothan Eagle reported.
Senate Bill 381 offers “proper regulation of bingo” statewide by limiting, taxing and regulating bingo all while creating points of destination throughout the state, ultimately keeping money in Alabama, Dorris said.
The bill also puts the ultimate decision in the hands of the voters, said Rudy Wilson, member of the board of directors for both the Mobile Greyhound Park and Pensacola Greyhound Track. Poarch Creek owns a controlling interest in Mobile Greyhound Park.
The proposed bill would limit gaming to eight sites, grandfathering in six sites where gaming already occurs — the Mobile Greyhound Park, VictoryLand, Greenetrack and Birmingham Greyhound Racing and two gaming facilities, Country Crossing and White Hall Resort and Entertainment Center. Two other potential sites would be determined at a later date by a newly formed Alabama Gaming Commission, also proposed under the bill.
The bill also requires that the six current and two potential new sites immediately start meeting their $100 million threshold if passed.
In addition to limiting gaming, the proposed ABC Act calls for “very strict” regulations, Dorris said.
Officials at PCI, which also owns and operates three Indian gaming facilities in Atmore, Tallapoosa and Wetumpka, said they believe the limits and regulations brought forth by the ABC Act are fair to all parties involved.
As with most states that offer some form of gaming, Alabama’s education and Medicaid budgets would benefit from Senate Bill 381, Dorris said.
According to the proposal, 28 percent of the gross bingo proceeds at each facility would be taxed. In addition, vendors that provide the bingo machines by leasing to operators would be taxed 20 percent of proceeds collected from gaming money. Dorris said currently game vendors are collecting anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of daily wins, money he said is leaving the state.
The bill also calls for “substantial” licensing fees for each facility in order to fund the Alabama Gaming Commission, which would enforce all that the ABC Act proposes.
The bill would also prevent municipal governments from voting in gaming in towns across the state, Dorris said.
Keahey’s bill is one of several proposed during this legislative session to deal with the confusion over gambling. Also last week, state Sen. Roger Bedford proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide if they want to legalize electronic bingo.
Poarch officials said they are backing the Keahey bill and believe the other legislation proposed is partial to other gaming entities.