The people's voice of reason

Gambling bill passes the House of Representatives

Members of the House Gaming Study Group held a press conference recently to present their controversial gambling bill to the public. The group has been meeting in secret for months without public input as they crafted a controversial gambling bill that would lead to as many as ten casinos across Alabama,

The members of the secret committee that spoke to the public for the first time on Wednesday included: State Representatives Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), Andy Whitt (R-Harvest), Sam Jones (D-Mobile) and State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore).

Rep. Whitt was introduced as the Chair of the extremely secretive study committee.

The 150-page bill that members of the Legislature saw for the first time on Tuesday is being sponsored by Blackshear. Blackshear insisted that the people of Alabama want a gambling bill.

"Whether I'm at a public event or running errands back home, my constituents have consistently asked me why so many illegal facilities remain in operation and when they'll have an opportunity to vote on gaming," said Blackshear. "I'm proud of our work, and I look forward to guiding this bill through the legislative process."

It is highly unusual for a committee of legislators to meet in secret without public notice of their meetings and with none of the capital press allowed to witness any of the proceedings.

"The process taken in crafting this legislation should be a model for how the Legislature handles all its business," said Jones. "We came together, negotiated in good faith, and created a product that will allow us to give the people of Alabama the chance to vote on this important issue. After all these years, it's time we finally get this done."

The Alabama Gazette asked: Rep Jones said that your committee has been meeting on this since the end of the last session. Rep Blackshear said that you have been meeting for three years ; yet I have never seen a public notice on any of these committee meetings. Who were you meeting with, Are you going to release the minutes of those meetings and why were both the press and the public barred from having any input in this piece of legislation until now when you are posed to introduce this 150 page bill. Did you intentionally ignore normal legislative procedures and the spirit of the Open Meetings Act if not the letter of the law?

Jones said that he has been meeting with "an od hoc committee on gaming of the (Democratic) caucus."

Albritton said, "There is nothing new here."

The committee to this point has noted reveal the minutes of their meetings, who the committee has met with (gaming interests, gambling addiction experts, attorneys, consultants, lobbyists, economic developers, law enforcement, etc.) and exactly who, besides Whitt, Jones, Blackshear, and Albritton actually serve on this very unique secret committee,

Vote it up or vote it dowqn

We have not determinied ths schedule

The legislation does not allow counties to compete for the casinos. Instead the only counties that can have casinos are: Jefferson, Macon, Greene, Lowndes, Houston and Mobile Counties. The bill would authorize the governor to enter into a compact with the Poarch band of Creek Indians (PCI) which already operates gambling facilities in Wetumpka, Atmore, and Escambia Counties. The bill authorizrs the governor to allow the Indians to have a fourth location in Northeast Alabama.

Some sources claim that this tenth casino site would be, perhaps coincidentally, in the districts of Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and new Senate Majority Leader Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro). How the gaming committee determined that 10 was the ideal number of casinos rather than 8, 12, or 25 has not been revealed.

While Greenetrack, White Hall, Victoryland, the Birmingham Race Course, the Mobile Greyhound Park, and the gambling hall formerly known as Country Crossings all operate within the counties that will be allowed to have a casino; the committee insists that there will be competition for the licenses. Each license will cost $5 million. The Gaming Commission would have sole authority to move a license to another location – even to a county outside of the original named county claim some critics.

The bill would also create a state lottery and legalize sports betting in the state. It also creates a powerful new bureaucracy in the Alabama Gaming Commission to regulate the gambling industry in the state. That commission will have its owned armed law enforcement arm that will be tasked with hunting down anyone who is operating a gambling business without a license and paying their cut to the state of Alabama.

"These criminal enterprises are operating out in the open with complete disregard for state law," Chairman Whitt said. "Despite what a few out-of-state funded groups will tell you, the only goal with this legislation is to offer Alabamians an opportunity to make an informed decision on the ballot and enable the state to put the bad actors out of business."

The bill passed the House on Thursday, February – even though members were only given a week to review the amendment and the enabling legislation bill (a combined 300 pages).

The bill will then go to the State Senate where presumably Albritton will carry the bill. Albritton has carried past gambling bills in the Alabama legislature.

If it passes booth Houses of the Legislature in the same form, it will go on the ballot in November for the public to vote on.

Members of the Republican state executive committee have told the Alabama Gazette that there are concerns that putting a gaming bill on the November ballot will result in higher turnout of Democratic voters and could cost the GOP some down ballot races in the fall as well as possibly swing the newly redrawn congressional district 2 to Democrats.

My biggest concern is the date of the vote," said former State Rep. Perry O Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery). "I want a big Republican turnout for Donald Trump and for the Second Congressional race. That district is split 50:50 and having the gambling vote on this date could cost us the Second Congressional District and possibly control of the U.S. House of Representatives."

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