By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Gov. Kay Ivey wants to allow Alabama citizens to vote on a lottery.
Her office said so this week to APR Editor in Chief, Bill Britt.
This is what passes for progress in Alabama. A Governor allowing voters to decide on a potential revenue source that could drastically alter the way this State does business.
Why we’re still discussing this topic, I have no idea. Alabama is broke. Alabama loves to gamble. Alabama already has legal gambling.
Let’s handle these in order.
First, there’s no serious argument that we aren’t broke. Have you been to a courthouse lately and noticed all of the empty offices? Driven down an overgrown highway?
We have a nine-figure General Fund Budget deficit staring us in the face, and that’s after we’ve slashed essential services to the bone over the last 10 years. You have a better chance of spotting Bigfoot than an Alabama State Trooper on most State highways.
So, yeah, we’re flat broke.
And the group of GOP lawmakers running the clown show that is our State Legislature have made it crystal clear that they’re not going to do the responsible thing and raise taxes. We have the lowest State income tax rates in the country, but hey, they promised.
A couple of years ago, they couldn’t manage to pass a cigarette tax increase in order to fund government.
So, with such a deficit and with zero political will or intelligence to correct it, your options are limited. Basically, you have two: Either be a wizard that can make money appear out of thin air or legalize gambling.
Whenever we start seriously talking about the latter of those two options, a few general assumptions get tossed out. The most common is that gambling is something a large portion of this State looks down on, won’t tolerate.
Alabama currently has three very successful, very well attended electronic bingo casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Those locations produce upwards of a half a billion dollars in profit for the Poarch Creeks annually.
Of that money, the State receives zero, since the Poarch Creeks don’t pay State taxes.
But it doesn’t stop there.
The Tennessee Lottery commission reports that its highest sales come from lottery vendors along the Alabama State line. Same for Georgia. Same for Florida.
Alabama residents are streaming into those states to buy Powerball tickets and play scratch-off cards. All the while sending Tennessee’s and Georgia’s and Florida’s kids to college and paying for better school systems in those states.
And it gets worse.
Alabama residents also participate in off-the-books wagering on sporting events at a higher rate than almost any other state, according to two studies.
As if we needed studies to know that. Hell, I started placing football bets with a bookie when I was 9. Which means I was a late bloomer.
For all of that gambling – all of the hundreds of millions of dollars Alabama residents spend each year – we receive ZERO in tax revenue.
That is because, for some reason or another, Alabama voters have been fooled into believing this fairytale that the State is anti-gambling and that no legalized gambling exists.
On top of those three Poarch Creek facilities, we have four legal dog tracks, where average citizens can place thousands of dollars in wagers on dog races taking place all over the country. We also have bingo parlors, where every day hundreds of men and women play paper bingo games for cash prizes.
So, we have gambling. We’ve had it for a long time, and we like it.
The problem is we’ve decided to draw one of the dumbest lines ever on this issues. It’s a line that allows for some gambling, but not enough to benefit anyone in the State.
And believe me, it could help.
Tennessee, from the lottery alone, put nearly $400 million into its education programs last year. Georgia raised more than $1 billion for its HOPE Scholarship fund.
A sizeable chunk of that money came from Alabama residents.
Consider the absurdity of that.
And now consider what Alabama could be if we legalized a lottery, casino gaming and entered into a compact with the Poarch Creeks.
This absurd argument has stretched on long enough. It has done enough damage. And it has placed too many of Alabama’s young people behind the young people of Georgia and Tennessee and Florida.
While the kids from those states are going to college for free, ours are racking up thousands in student loan debt. Or worse: choosing to enter the low-skill job market to avoid the loans.
It’s awful, and it’s well past time that we stopped pretending that this isn’t hurting us.
It is. And fixing it isn’t progress.
It’s common sense.