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Alabama Electronic Bingo Amendment (2012)

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An Alabama Electronic Bingo Amendment had originally been proposed for the June 1, 2010 primary election ballot in Alabama as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, but legislative session ended without any action on the bill, therefore leaving it dead until 2011 session to possibly place it on a 2012 ballot. There were multiple versions of bingo bills that were discussed in the legislative session. 2012 session ended without the measure being placed on the ballot.[1]

Senator Lowell Barron, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, the agenda setting committee, stated in 2011 that he would not place a bill before the Senate until he was confident the bill would gain enough votes to pass it to the House. If it had been approved by the Senate by a two-thirds vote, a proposed bingo bill would had to have passed another two-thirds vote by the House before being sent to the ballot.[2][3][4]

According to a sponsor of one bill, Marcel Black at the time: "Gambling is here in the state, and it is going to continue to spread. It's an untapped source of revenue for the state that needs to be looked at.” Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert stated at the time: "It will probably be one of the biggest issues of the upcoming legislative session.”[5]

Details of bill

The bill that was mostly being considered for the ballot in 2010 was Roger Bedford's version, which had been scaled back since it had been defeated by the Alabama State Senate. The following were the proposed details of Bedford's bill:[6]

  • Allows the people of Alabama to decide whether or not to let electronic bingo operate in the state.
  • Would place taxes on electronic bingo.
  • Establish gaming commission that would regulate bingo.
  • Gaming commission would consist of five members, who would be appointed by the highest officials in the state.
  • 25% of revenue obtained from the tax would go toward public school education, Medicaid and other services for seniors.
  • Does not specify which public service would get most of the revenue.

Versions of bingo bill

The following measures were proposed in 2010 legislative session for the 2010 ballot:

  • A proposal by Marcel Black, HB 154, which the synopsis read as follows:
"This bill proposes a general law that will relieve non-Indian operators of bingo from certain legal disabilities that do not apply to Indian tribes conducting bingo under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act."[7]
"Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to allow the Legislature to pass laws authorizing, taxing, and regulating bingo, whether or not electronic, computer, or other technologic aids are used in connection with the game of bingo, in one or more locations in the state."
  • SB 380 was defeated in the Senate due to lack of support on March 3, 2010. It was sponsored by Roger Bedford, also known as the Sweet Home Alabama Bill, which the synopsis reads as follows:[9][10]
"Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, (i) to authorize bingo destination points in each of the seven Congressional Districts and provide further for maritime gaming on cruise ships, (ii) to establish the conditions under which bingo as allowed by federal law for Indian tribes may also be played in limited areas in the state, (iii) to levy a state gross receipts tax and local gross receipts tax on the revenue generated by these bingo games, (iv) to create a State Gaming Commission for the regulation of bingo operations throughout the state and to enforce the gaming laws of the state, and (v) to distribute the proceeds of the taxes to the Education Trust Fund, the General Fund for the benefit of the state Medicaid program, and to those counties which do not have local bingo constitutional amendments."
  • SB 515, sponsored and introduced by Senator Quinton Ross, which the synopsis read as follows:
"This bill would propose an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to authorize the operation of electronic bingo. The amendment would provide for the creation of the Alabama Gaming Commission to regulate and license electronic bingo and would provide for taxation of electronic bingo operations by the state and local governing bodies."[11]
  • Senator Marc Keahey introduced SB 381, a constitutional amendment, and which the ballot title read as follows:
"Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, (i) to limit gaming in Alabama, (ii) to establish the Alabama Gaming Commission to regulate commercial bingo operations, (iii) to assure that the proceeds from these operations are legitimately accounted for in an open manner, and (iv) to provide for a tax on bingo operators and bingo vendors to support local governments and to fund the General Fund for the benefit of the state Medicaid program and the Education Trust Fund for the benefit of the public schools."[12]

Support

Legislature

Allowing bingo in the state had received support from the following legislative members:

According to Holley, "I will support a vote on a constitutional amendment on the bingo issue if the amendment provides for a strong oversight commission, taxes the machines in an amount that is fair to the people of Alabama..."[14]

Means had stated that the residents in his district wanted an opportunity to have a say in the matter and wanted to see the issue on the ballot.[13]

Other political figures

  • Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham wrote an editorial, which was published by the Opelika-Auburn News, that stated his support for a vote to be sent to the ballot for public vote. According to Turnham, the issue had been a distraction to the state and claimed that Governor Riley's handling of the issue had been "bizarre." Turnham wrote, "Gaming already exists at the Native American facilities in Alabama and in Mississippi. Recent raids and court orders will not end gaming and won’t solve long-simmering legal feuds. So let’s put this issue to a vote of the people and get on with our lives."[15]

See Additional reading for full column.

Organizations

According to Luther W. Winn Jr., president and CEO of Greenetrack, when commenting on the potential passage of Roger Bedford's proposed bill, "It’s a fair bill that gives the people of Alabama a fair up-or-down vote. It contains no specified locations, and it doesn’t favor anybody." Greenetrack is a dog track located in Eutaw, Alabama. According to reports, the facility includes dog racing as well as approximately 700 slot and VP machines.[16][17]

Media editorial positions

  • The Birmingham News editorial board stated its support for a public vote, stating, "It's clear something needs to be done to clarify what is legal, and the best way to do that, we feel, is to give voters a chance to decide the issue. It's paramount that any proposal ultimately appearing on the ballot protects Alabamians' interests -- because it may well pass."[4]
  • The Birmingham News wrote another editorial stating its support of the measure on March 14, 2010, this time supporting a measure introduced by Senator Quinton Ross. The editorial stated, "Ross' proposal would have Alabama voters decide whether to allow the operation of electronic bingo, create a statewide commission to license and regulate electronic bingo, impose a 30 percent tax on bingo gross receipts, and allow local governments to impose an annual license fee of up to $1.5 million. And that's it. That's all voters would know. If voters approved the constitutional amendment, lawmakers then could fine-tune the ground rules."[18]
  • The Birmingham News again stated that a "straight-up" vote on the matter by the voters in the state should be the way to settle the issue of gambling. According to the editorial, "A straight-up vote could help clear the matter once and for all and prevent the kind of willy-nilly interpretations of what type of gambling is and isn't allowed under the law. Voters who disagree with the state Supreme Court can retaliate at the ballot box."[19]
  • The Huntsville Times stated on March 29, 2011, "If voters legalize gambling, they should have the chance to accept or reject at a later election a constitutional amendment setting out the rules for gambling operations. But first, Alabama voters should be given a chance to have their say at last."[20]

Rallies

  • A rally held outside the State House on February 23, 2010 presented residents in the state both for and against a proposed ballot measure. Some arguments from supporters included:[2]
Alabama resident Susan Childs described her time as a floor supervisor at Country Crossing, an electronic bingo complex in the state. She stated that her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor that required chemotherapy and that her current money situation will not pay for the monthly chemotherapy costs. She held a sign at the rally that read, "Will work for chemo. Keep Country Crossing open."
  • Former casino workers, laid off from the circumstances surrounding the state, marched to the capitol in Montgomery on March 6, 2010. The rally, entitled, "The People's Protest for Jobs, Justice, and the Opportunity to Vote," lobbied for the passage of the bingo measure, to cease casino raids and to reopen gambling operations. 150 people participated in the event, which was led by Reverend Jesse Jackson and Johnny Ford, a former Tuskegee mayor. According to Gary Buckmaster, who trains racing greyhounds, "Because when they shut down the casino they shut down the dog track. And when they don’t run, we don’t get paid.”
  • Protesters raised signs that read "Protect jobs in Alabama, NOT Mississippi" and "I support bingo." Lynetta Holly, a former accounting clerk at the now-closed gambling facility Whitehall Gaming Center, "I just want my job back,” she said. “I want the opportunity to work. I’ve been looking (for another job). They’re really hard to find."[21]

Local casinos

VictoryLand, a casino located in Macon County, has argued on their website to let the people decide on the gambling issue. Owner Milton McGregor is in favor of placing the measure on the ballot, as his business was the subject of a failed raid, which was nixed after the casino filed a restraining order, which prohibited a raid without a search warrant.[22]

According to the VictoryLand website, "Unfortunately we are temporarily closed due to Bob Riley's attempt to destroy VictoryLand." Also on the front page of the website is the phrase, "Let The People Vote." The casino was closed by McGregor on February 1, 2010. According to reports, the casino was able to operate under constitutional amendments that had been approved by certain counties.[22][23]

Opposition

Arguments

In response the scaled down version of Senator Roger Bedford's 2010 bill that passed the Alabama State Senate on March 30, 2010, opponents argued that the newer version of the Sweet Home Alabama Bill was a "blank check" being used by the Legislature in terms of bingo and its implementation. Opponents also stated that there was no language in the bill that would eliminate bingo in the state if voters reject the proposal, if sent to the ballot.[16]

Legislature

Alabama Senator Scott Beason stated his support for a public vote, but claimed that the 2010 legislation was not a clear-cut question of whether gambling should be allowed in the state. The senator stated a desire for a ballot question that lets people decide whether gambling should be allowed. Beason believes this should be done before proceeding with logistics on how to operate casinos and other gambling sites in Alabama.[13]

Representative Alan Baker has stated that he would vote against the bill when the House conducts its vote. Stating concerns over the proposal, Baker claimed that the simplified version of the Sweet Home Alabama bill would only put the issue of gambling before legislature in the future. According to Baker, "It puts it back on the Legislature to make restrictions on gaming."[24]

Legislative members who stated their opposition and voted against Bedford's bingo bill include Shelby County's three state senators:

Ewrin stated in his blog after the bill was passed by the Alabama State Senate, "“Despite our best efforts today, (the) electronic bingo bill passed the Senate. The bill has many concerns, and sadly, a few of our colleagues gave into the political pressure.”[25]

Other political figures

Bradly Byrne, former state senator and who is currently running for governor stated his opposition to the gambling measure, as he visited with leaders and business owners in Clanton, Alabama. Byrne stated his opposition to any form of gambling and would speak out against a state lottery if it were put on the ballot.[26]

Governor of Alabama Bob Riley is an opponent of the measure. At a rally that both supporters and opponents attended, Riley spoke to the crowd outside the State House, saying that electronic bingo is illegal in the state, saying "Not here. Not in Alabama," but later announcing, "Change it if you want. Change it at the ballot box. Change it here."[2]

Rallies

At a rally held outside the State House on February 23, 2010 presented residents in the state both for and against a proposed ballot measure. Some arguments from opponents included:

  • Alabama resident Felicia Hogan who held up a sign stating, "Where casinos go, the crime rate follows."
  • Guy Moore claimed to be a former professional gambler. Moore described people he knew who ruined their lives due to gambling.

Path to the ballot

See also: Amending the Alabama Constitution

On March 2, 2010, the Alabama State Senate approved a list of bills that the chamber would debate, including a bingo measure, then adjourned after a quick recess. The bills were approved by a slim 19-16 vote. According to reports, the senate must vote again to formally debate the measure. According to Scott Beason, the senate was adjourned because those who support the question believed they didn't have enough votes to pass it to a debate. However, Beason believes only a few more votes may be needed. Senator Roger Bedford, sponsor of the bingo issue, Sweet Home Alabama Bill, up for debate, stated, "I have said from the beginning that we will handle the gaming issue right, not fast..." The bill was later defeated in the Senate on March 3, 2010.[10][13][27]

To make the ballot, 63 of the state's 104 members of Alabama House of Representatives and 21 of the 32 senators in the Alabama State Senate must vote to approve the measure.

As of April 20, Governor of Alabama Bob Riley ordered Alabama Attorney General to stop efforts to interfere with the governor's task force to stop gambling in the state. In March 2010, Troy King had stated that he would take over the operation, but the governor was at odds with the attorney general and exercised supreme executive power in order to remove King from directing the task force. Riley also ordered the attorney general to turn over evidence they have obtained regarding bingo operations in Alabama while running the task force. The two men have different views on electronic bingo, with Riley stating they are illegal and King stating it can be legal under certain circumstances.[28]

Legislative session

The Alabama Legislature, as of March 15, 2010 had met for 20 of it's 30 days of legislative session, meaning time was dwindling for the electronic bingo amendment to make the ballot. According to Roger Bedford, sponsor of one of the many versions of bingo bills introduced, "So far, the Senate is divided and there is not a 21-vote consensus. My hope is we can try one more time." 21 votes are needed in order for the issue of bingo to be discussed in the Senate and before it can be sent to a vote in both chambers of the legislature.[29]

During the week of March 30, 2010, the Alabama State Senate had been debating the bill, deciding whether or not to place the measure on the ballot. The bill that was being debated was a watered down version of the Senator Roger Bedford's proposal. According to supporters, enough votes were thought to have been collected in order to place the question on the ballot.[30]

The bill reached a milestone on March 31, 2010 after the Senate approved the bill with a vote of 21-13. The bill then headed to the Alabama House of Representatives, where had to have gained a similar vote in order to be placed on the ballot. Senators Jim Preuitt and Bobby Denton were formerly against the bill, originally proposed by Roger Bedford, but voted in favor of it this time due to the proposal being watered down. Senator Harri Anne Smith, one of two Republican senators to vote for the bill stated, "I just did what I felt was in the best interests of my constituents and the people of the state of Alabama to move this issue forward and let the people vote on the issue."[31][32]

The House Tourism and Travel committee then had the bill placed before them, but decided to delay a decision on the bill, making it unclear if the proposal would be voted on by the House. The delay was at the request of Marcel Black, who was the House sponsor of the bill. According to reports, Black wanted to negotiate some changes to the bill with other Representatives, and stated that he needed a few days to complete those negotiations. The bill was then approved by the committee on April 13, 2010, paving the way for the bill to be voted on by the Alabama House of Representatives.[33][34]

As of April 19, 2010, the measure seemed to be short of a few votes in the House, according to some reports. As the debate neared, many doubted the strength of support the bill had in the chamber. The House had planned to debate the bill on April 21, 2010, which was the penultimate day of the legislative session. Lawmakers continued to claim that the bill did not have the support in the House in order to place the measure on the ballot. The much anticipated vote had been scheduled for the last day of legislative session on April 22, 2010. Representative Marcel Black gave a dim view of the bill being passed to the ballot, stating, "About noon or 12:30 this afternoon you know to the end we were still trying to talk and convince folks and it just became apparent that we weren't going to have the 63 votes to send it to the people." Black later stated, "It would take a resurrection of miraculous proportions to allow this bill to come back up." State lawmakers adjourned on April 21, 2010 without any action on the bill, leaving the bill for the 2011 session.[35][4][36]

FBI Investigation

After the measure was passed in the Alabama State Senate, the Federal Bureau of Investigations contacted lawmakers, stating their intentions to begin an investigation to see if any members of the Senate had been offered any incentive in exchange for supporting votes. The investigation began when the chamber passed the bill on March 30, 2010. According to Marcel Black House sponsor of the bill, referring to the investigation, "I don't think it should stop this bill getting to the people." Also, Governor of Alabama Bob Riley, who is opposed the measure, denied that he had anything to do with the FBI investigation. Riley stated, "It really is somewhat silly to say the governor's office would have any influence or control of an FBI investigation." Zeb Little disagreed, stating, "The governor is using everything in the book to deny the people the right to vote."[33][37]

A resolution has also been filed with the Alabama Supreme Court by Representative Mike Ball, who stated that the bill was improperly voted upon in the senate. According to the resolution, the bill would not have made it out of the senate chamber without the vote of Senator Henry Sanders, who Ball claims has a conflict of interest. Ball's resolution accuses Sanders of revealing in television interviews that his law firm represents a group hoping to open and operate bingo in an Alabama county[35]

The trial began at the Frank M. Johnson Jr. Courthouse on June 6, 2011 with the selection of jury members.[38]

Advertisements

Alabama Electronic Bingo Amendment, TV advertisements

The following groups printed advertisements pertaining to the potential bingo ballot measure:[39]

  • Citizens for a Better Alabama

The ad from the group that was printed on the Brewton Standard stated, "The new casino bill is a blank check for casino bosses," and urges voters to call Representative Harry Shiver with inquiries about the issue.

  • Let Us Vote Coalition

The ad from the group that was printed on the Brewton Standard stated, "The simple bingo bill gives the people of Alabama a straight up or down vote."

Polls

See also: Polls, 2010 ballot measures
Legend

     Position is ahead and at or over 50%     Position is ahead or tied, but under 50%

  • In a poll conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, 529 residents were asked a variety of questions, including a question that asked if gambling in the state should be outlawed or regulated and taxed. The survey showed an overwhelming support for regulation and taxation among the respondents. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.26 percentage points.[40][41]
Date of Poll Pollster In favor Opposed Undecided Number polled
Jan 4-17, 2010 P.A.R.C.A 72% 26% 2% 529

Timeline

The following is a time line of events relating to the ballot measure:

  • January 12, 2010: Marcel Black's version of bingo bill read for first time in the Alabama Legislature.
  • February 1, 2010: VictoryLand Casino closed due to potential raids by the state of Alabama.
  • February 4, 2010: Roger Bedford's and Marc Keahey's version of bingo bill read for first time in the Alabama Legislature.
  • February 17, 2010: Henry Sanders's version of bingo bill read for first time in the Alabama Legislature.
  • February 23, 2010: A rally held outside the State House was held and presented residents in the state both for and against a bingo bill
  • March 3, 2010: Roger Bedford's bill defeated in the Alabama State Senate due to lack of support.
  • March 6, 2010: Former casino worker marched to the capitol in Montgomery. The rally was called "The People's Protest for Jobs, Justice, and the Opportunity to Vote."
  • March 9, 2010: Quinton Ross's version of bingo bill read for the first time in the Alabama Legislature
  • March 30, 2010: Different version of Bedford's debated by Senate
  • March 31, 2010: Watered down version of Roger Bedford's bill passed by Alabama State Senate with a vote of 21-13.
  • April 21, 2010:Alabama Legislature concludes without any action on the bill, therefore leaving the measure for the 2011 session.

See also

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Suggest a link

External links

Additional reading

References

  1. Alabama Secretary of State, "2010 scheduled elections"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Times Daily, "Bingo forces rally in capital," February 24, 2010
  3. Birmingham News, "Alabama representative proposes 14 gambling centers throughout state," March 6, 2009
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Birmingham News, "OUR VIEW: If Alabama legislators want to resolve the debate over gambling, they need to give voters a good proposal to consider," February 11, 2010
  5. The Birmingham News "Rep. Black to introduce bill on referendum to allow electronic bingo and put a state tax on gross revenue," January 11, 2009
  6. WSFA.com, "Bingo bill breakdown," April 5, 2010
  7. Alabama Legislature, "HB154"
  8. Alabama Legislature, "SB 507"
  9. Alabama Legislature, "SB 380"
  10. 10.0 10.1 Dothan Eagle, "Senator who voted against bingo bill believes people want a vote," March 10, 2010
  11. Alabama Legislature, "SB515"
  12. Alabama Legislature, "Bill Status of SB 381"
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Montgomery Advertiser, "Alabama lawmakers return to debate gambling," March 3, 2010
  14. Montgomery Advertiser, "Two GOP senators would support vote on electronic bingo," February 14, 2010
  15. Opelika-Auburn News, "Joe Turnham on bingo: Let’s put the issue to a vote," March 8, 2010
  16. 16.0 16.1 Tuscaloosa News, "Supporters praise new bingo bill’s simplicity," April 1, 2010
  17. World Casino Directory, "Greenetrack"
  18. The Birmingham News, "OUR VIEW: Another piece of legislation offers a way -- though not necessarily a perfect way -- to get the issue of electronic bingo to a vote of the people" March 14, 2010
  19. Birmingham News, "EDITORIAL: State's 'bingo' wars must end," August 4, 2010
  20. AL.com, "Editorial: Bingo, give Alabama voters their say," March 29, 2011
  21. oanow.com, "Bingo advocates rally at capitol," March 6, 2010
  22. 22.0 22.1 Victoryland.com, Front Page
  23. The Tuskegee News, "Bingo battle branching out, message remains the same," February 25, 2010
  24. Atmore Advance, "Rep. Baker has ‘concerns’ about bingo bill," April 12, 2010
  25. Shelby County Reporter, "Shelby County senators oppose bingo bill," March 31, 2010
  26. The Clanton Advertiser, "Byrne: Economy, education & ethics top focus," January 27, 2010
  27. Daily Comet, "Alabama Senate puts electronic bingo on agenda," March 2, 2010
  28. Baptist Press News, "http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=32748," April 20, 2010
  29. Dothan Eagle, "Bingo competing with budgets, other bills as session hits home stretch," March 15, 2010
  30. Dothan Eagle, "Senate currently debating bill to place bingo issue on ballot," March 31, 2010
  31. Dothan Eagle, "State Senate passes bill to put bingo on ballot," March 31, 2010
  32. WNCFTV, "Bingo Bill Delayed"
  33. 33.0 33.1 Bloomberg Business Week, "Alabama bingo bill stalls with time running out," April 8, 2010
  34. Times Daily, "Bingo bill awaits vote by full House," April 14, 2010
  35. 35.0 35.1 Bloomberg Business Week, "Alabama bingo bill in doubt as House debate nears," April 19, 2010
  36. The Birmingham News, "UPDATED: Bingo bill appears dead for the year," April 21, 2010
  37. The Associated Press, "FBI probes Alabama lawmakers on bingo casino bill," April 3, 2010
  38. Montgomery Advertise, "McGregor, others go to court for alleged scheme Bingo trial starts Monday," June 5, 2011
  39. Brewton Standard "Pressure mounts over bingo vote in House," April 6, 2010
  40. The PARCA Quarterly, "Winter 2010"
  41. AL.com, "Talbot: Top pollster says Alabama voters are ready for bingo," February 17, 2010