The people's voice of reason

Legislators were pressured by leadership to pass gambling bill

On Saturday, February 17 State Representative Jim Carns (R-Vestavia Hills) and State Senator Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) reflected on the first two weeks of the 2024 Alabama Regular Legislative Session in comments made to the Mid-Alabama Republican Club (MARC). The Alabama House of Representatives had passed a controversial gambling legalization bill on Thursday so that topic dominated much of the conversation.

Former State Representative Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood) moderated the event.

"It was a consequential week in Montgomery," DeMarco said. "It's ok to tell the truth about Republicans. I heard that there were legislators who were threatened, their committee chairmanships were threatened."

"I was not personally threatened," said Rep. Carns who voted against the leadership's gambling bill. "I did hear a lot of people who said they were. I was told it was ok to vote no; but not to filibuster."

Carns said that the Speaker of the House (Nathaniel Ledbetter) has to sign off on trips that legislators take and that members had been threatened that if they blocked the gambling bill that they would lose their trip privileges and the leadership would keep their bills from passing.

Carns said that few Representatives came to the mic to make their feelings known on the bill.

"The bill was not made available until Thursday afternoon of last week," Carns said. It was 140 pages on the enabling legislation and 180 pages on the constitutional amendment."

"It takes 63 votes to pass a constitutional amendment in the House and 21 in the Senate," Carns explained.

"We had 32 no votes going in," Carns said even though some members changed sides, "At the end of the day we had 32 no votes. We needed four votes to kill the bill."

State Senator Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) said that the gambling bill has been assigned to the tourism committee in the Senate.

"Currently I don't think they have the votes," Roberts said. "As explained in the House, everybody currently in business will still get to stay in business. That are currently illegally gaming and can do that until 2028."

"Three unelected unaccountable individuals will run gaming (the members of the Alabama Gaming Commission)," Roberts explained. "They will be outside of the attorney general, the DAs (district attorneys) and ALEA."

"Those three appoint the executive director," Carns said. "Whoever the executive director is of that gaming commission will be the gambling Czar of Alabama. Guys like Jim and Dan will not be able to get elected because that industry will make sure that only people who are pro gaming get elected. It's the same with marijuana. 25 of the 39 states who have passed medical marijuana have since passed recreational. If it goes to recreational it will be a huge deal. The people that are getting the big bucks on that will want to get people elected who are likely to support them and their interests."

Carns said that getting medical marijuana started in Alabama has proven difficult.

"They were in the starting blocks and a hand grenade went off," Carns said. "Now there are all sorts of lawsuits."

"I think you will see an amendment to that bill (the medical marijuana bill) to increase that (the number of integrator) from five to ten," Roberts said. "It is a total fiasco."

"A lobbyist told me this was coming," Carns said. This is something that was kind of an epiphany for me. Ten years ago, I was leading a small men's Bible study and I read that sin goes further, stays longer, and costs more. I can substitute sin, with taxes, gaming, and marijuana."

DeMarco said that gambling proponents claim that passage of the gambling bill would bring in over a $billion to state coffers.

Carns agreed that that is what is written in the fiscal note; but he disputed their assumptions.

"The gambling industry has been shrinking for the last 25 years," Carns said. "I never could make how we could get to a $billion because of the payouts."

Carns said that gambling will be taxed at a rate of 24%. 30% will go to prizes and winnings so the state to make a $billion that means "you are taking more than $5 billion out of the Alabama economy."

"That is money that is not going to our restaurants, our stores, or our local businesses," Carns said. "A recent study on the lottery showed that players earning less than $30,000 spend less than 13% of their income on lottery tickets while players earning more than $80,000 a year spend less than 1% of their income spend on lottery tickets."

Carns said that when Biloxi opened up its casinos 180 new pawn shops opened within 50 miles.

"You gamble next week's car payment so you have to pawn something to pay the car payment," Carns said. "Eventually you run out of things to pawn and you start doing things that will get you into trouble with the law. Gambling causes crime to rise."

"Most of the people that support gambling want it to be similar to Hope scholarships like in Georgia and it is not," Roberts said of the gambling bill.

DeMarco expressed his concern that having the gambling vote on November 5 will encourage Democrats to come out to vote in numbers and that that could cost Republicans in Jefferson County and other places as well as cost the GOP the Second Congressional District race.

Dan Roberts said that he expects that changing the date of the vote for the gambling amendment ratification will be offered as an amendment in the Senate.

"I think we will have a second Democrat elected to Congress if gambling is on the November fifth ballot," Carns said. "If it is on another day, we have a 50:50 shot/"

The Yellowhammer News asked: This bill allows up to ten casinos in the state of Alabama with nine of those being existing operations in Mobile, Houston, Lowndes, Macon, Greene Counties and the city of Birmingham as well as the three existing casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka, the tenth does not exist yet. It would go in rural North Jackson County in the Speaker of the House and the new Senate Majority Leaders' district. Is this open corruption?

"I can say that or not," Carns said. "The PCI (Poarch Creek Indians) does not want that. They want their casino not to be in the middle of nowhere. they want it in the City of Birmingham. To me Northeast Alabama would be the last place I would want to build it. If you put it in downtown Birmingham near I-65, you have got hotels, it would be close to the Protective Stadium and the new theater. That is a distinct possibility that the Indians have the horsepower to get that done in the Senate. They did not have the horsepower to get that done in the House."

DeMarco said that, "Some of this money will be to expand Medicaid in the state of Alabama

Roberts said that instead of a straight Medicaid expansion the Legislature will call it "Kay-care". "That is Ivey's healthcare plan. Some kind of insurance like that will be purchased for all uninsured people in Alabama (with a large part of the state's gambling tax proceeds).

"The county will get 5 percent of the proceeds and the municipality gets 2%," Carns said.

DeMarco asked about plans to increase paroles in the state to let more dangerous criminals out of the Alabama Department of Corrections.

"We met with the Parole Board this week, we have met with the governor," Roberts said. "We have major problems going on with our prisons It is not a good place to be. We can't build our way out of this. You are looking at $1.2 billion for the prison that we are building in Elmore County, and I am guessing $800 to 850 million for the one we are building in Escambia County."

"We just passed medical care for the DOC that will cost $1.2 billion for five years and we added another $20 million for mental health," Roberts said.

"All the Republicans campaign on law and order and yet there are groups working to release more dangerous criminals," DeMarco warned. "It will affect Jeferson County more than any other."

Carns said that the last time they tried letting people out of prison one of them go out and killed a deputy sheriff in Bibb County

DeMarco said, "There were six murders in Jefferson County just yesterday."

"I would like to say that with a 76% supermajority in the House we will kill this; but I don't know that," Carns said.

Roberts said that that the senate was passing legislation last week.

"SB1 sponsored by Garlan Gudger bans ballot harvesting," Roberts said. The Senate also passed a bill by Chris Elliott allowing members of library boards to be removed, we passed a bill limiting meat made in laboratories, and a bill by Senator Reed that required schools to publish their curriculum so parents have a right to know what their children are being taught.

Carns said that there will be a constitutional amendment dealing with passing of local bills in the legislature on the March 5 ballot.

"That will solve a lot of problems," Carns said/

Carns said that under a current legal interpretation it takes 32 votes to pass a local bill. Many of those have to do with raising a tax or fees. Members are reluctant to vote for the local bill because the groups that monitor how members vote will count those votes against them.

"Even though they were trying to help a friend get something passed," Carns said. "Please vote for that. There are a lot of lawsuits on this."

The MARC meets next at the Vestavia Public Library on March 10.

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