Bingo issue alive?
By By Kerry Whipple Bean
While the Senate failed to bring to a vote an electronic bingo bill last week, state Rep. Alan Baker believes the issue is not dead yet.
Baker, R-Brewton, said the House would likely not vote on any bill unless it is passed by the Senate.
The state Senate has spent much of the first half of this year’s regular session on bingo legislation, with both Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, sponsoring bills that would allow a vote on a constitutional amendment to regulate, limit and tax electronic bingo operations.
Gov. Bob Riley is against electronic bingo and in recent weeks has used a statewide task force to raid bingo halls he says are illegal. Two of the largest operations were closed last month, but VictoryLand near Montgomery reopened on Friday, after officials in the county declared the gaming machines there legal. VictoryLand did surrender its liquor license as part of its attempt to reopen and avoid problems from the gaming task force.
One of the sticking points in the legislation that has been proposed, Baker said, is the percentage that bingo operations would be taxed. Initially, Bedford’s bill would have taxed them at 20 percent, then he raised that amount to 27 percent.
But Baker said other states tax at rates from 45 to 50 percent — and he said many lawmakers would like to see the higher rate.
With no bill before the House to consider yet, Baker said he has not decided how he would vote on that issue.
Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, has introduced a new electronic bingo bill, but it lacks a provision for a gaming commission to regulate bingo halls.
Last week, senators voted 18-16 not to take up debate on Bedford’s bingo bill. Bedford told the Birmingham News he did not plan to resurrect the legislation, but he might consider it after the Legislature’s spring break in the middle of this month.