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With sportsbooks legal, Alabama has an opportunity to change its future

Josh Moon

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Here’s your chance, Alabama.

For the last several years, this state’s lawmakers have been searching for an answer to its gambling problem. And believe me, there is a problem.

Currently, in a state that fights gambling legislation, there are three large Indian casinos raking in hundreds of millions of tax-free dollars annually, and many more quasi-legal gaming operations scattered around the state. (By “quasi-legal,” I mean there is disagreement about the legal standing of casinos, such as Greenetrack and VictoryLand, between many in local and state government, various courts and even from governor to governor.)

But on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal law that blocked sports gambling — or sportsbook — in states outside of Nevada, providing individual states with the ability to legalize such wagering.

Suddenly, there is a chance for Alabama to open up a major new revenue stream. And a chance for this state to FINALLY pass meaningful, comprehensive gambling legislation that puts to rest a decades-old fight.

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To explain this, let me set the stage.

For a long, long time now, Alabama has been engulfed in this complicated bickering over gaming, and for various reasons along the way.

Initially, it was holy rollers, prodded by Mississippi Indian casino money, who stood like barriers blocking any meaningful legalization of gaming on a statewide level. (Several count-specific constitutional amendments passed during this time, but no state-level laws. That includes Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery proposal, which was voted down, and multiple bills that would have legalized various gaming falling short of required votes in the legislature.)

More recently, there has been an inability to reach a compromise that appeased both the Poarch Creek Indians and the non-Indian casino owners. And there has been a vested interest by many lobbyists in preventing any agreement, because once there’s a state-level decision on gaming, there’s no more need for lobbyists.

So, we’ve been stuck in a sort of gambling purgatory, with PCI and its lobbyists and friendly lawmakers fighting off any gambling resolution that didn’t benefit the tribe, and non-Indian casino owners, their lobbyists and friendly lawmakers fighting off any legislation, or compact, that gave PCI too much leverage.

But the biggest problem has always been this: Indian gaming laws all but eliminated any flexibility in these negotiations, because there was never much incentive for the Poarch Creeks to change the status quo or for Alabama to make much money from a compact with the tribe.

At best, a compact would guarantee PCI the ability to operate Class III gaming, such as real slots (not electronic bingo) and table games. In exchange, it would have to give up a portion of that revenue, or pay an upfront fee to the state to operate. For an entity hauling in well over $750 million annually in profits, there wasn’t much to gain.

Now there is.

The Poarch Creeks are one of only seven tribes in America to express interest in operating a sportsbook. Because it could mean big profits in a state where illegal sports gambling is a huge business.

For the state, that’s a fairly nice carrot to dangle — one that isn’t tied to the traditional Class definitions set forth in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Which means the state could offer it exclusively to PCI, or it could offer it exclusively to the non-Indian casinos and shut PCI out.

And there’s more.

The Trump administration has indicated that it will not be as friendly to the tribes should conflicts arise between them and states. And there are many, many conflicts of late.

That could mean that PCI is looking for legal protections brought by a compact with the state, ensuring that, while they might have to surrender a small percentage of profits, their ability to operate casinos here will be protected.  

And one last thing: Alabama is more broke than usual.

The state is looking at around a $100 million shortfall in the next fiscal year and there’s nothing left to cut. That means either raising taxes or locating a large revenue source, like gambling, to fill part of the hole.

Combine all of this and you have a perfect storm of sorts that presents an opportunity to finally get this thing done.

There are options that could appease all involved and also serve this state well. Offering PCI the sportsbook operation along with additional locations in north Alabama, for example. And offering existing electronic bingo casinos — in Shorter, Birmingham, Mobile and Eutaw — the legal protection to offer similar games as the Poarch Creeks.

Just a few years ago, electronic bingo parlors were literally scattered all over the state, and yet VictoryLand employed nearly 2,500 people in the poorest county in Alabama and Greenetrack employed around 1,500 in the second poorest. At the same time, the PCI casinos were flourishing.

Alabama has an opportunity, if this is handled even close to appropriately, to haul in billions of dollars in tax revenue, employ tens of thousands of Alabamians in good-paying job that require zero economic incentives or tax breaks and send generations of underprivileged kids to college for zero dollars.

Get it done.  

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Mayor Woodfin: Tear down that statue

Josh Moon

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Dear Mayor Woodfin,

Tear it down.

Get a few blow torches and axes, maybe a jackhammer or two, and tear down that Confederate monument in Linn Park. If you’d like, to appease the phony historians out there, save a portion to be put in a museum in town.

But tear it down.

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled Monday night that you have the authority to remove it, and why wouldn’t you? It’s your city. It’s your city park. You maintain it. You should have complete authority over what goes or what stays in it.

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As Judge Michael Graffeo wrote in his order, “Just as the state could not force any particular citizen to post a pro-Confederacy sign in his or her front lawn, so too can the state not commandeer the city’s property for the state’s preferred message.”

It’s the perfect ruling. Because it’s so obviously accurate.

In fact, numerous people who worked in several cities around the state tried to explain to the legislature that this law was ridiculously encroaching — to the point of being counterproductive.

And a number of attorneys tried to explain to state lawmakers that the overreach was troubling and likely illegal.

But as the Legislature usually does, it ignored those cries of rationality. And instead chose the path of pandering.

Pandering to the most awful among us.

Pandering to the racists. Pandering to those who refuse to believe in an accurate history. Pandering to those who don’t care that statues honoring traitors and murderers offend large numbers of citizens in this state.

How couldn’t they offend black citizens?

Imagine learning stories of the horrific ways that your ancestors were treated — beaten, raped, tortured, bought and sold like cattle, and separated from their children — and then being told there was a statue of the men who did those things in the town square.

If this state’s citizenry had half the decency and morals that we proclaim, we’d be ashamed that we ever had the gall to erect these statues, or to honor the dishonorable men who led the fight to preserve slavery.

But instead, our state’s citizens have been brainwashed by decades of an absurdly whitewashed history, and will, in response to fact-based arguments for why the statues should be removed, talk passionately about the southern general’s great strategic mind or explain that this confederate treated his slaves well or tell you with a straight face that the whole damn thing wasn’t and isn’t about race and slavery.

Quite honestly, Mayor Woodfin, I am tired of the stupidity and the phony arguments and the wink-and-nod racism from closeted racists. They don’t really care if the statue is in the park. It’s not like they’re bringing their families by on Saturday afternoons to have picnics in front of the Confederate monuments and soak in the history.

They only want the statues to remain because those statues are one last poke in the eye to the people who say they have to treat black people as equals.

That’s it.

They get a little demented joy out of knowing that that statue is aggravating the blacks and the libs and the yankees.

That’s why they’ve erected a huge confederate flag beside the Interstate north of Montgomery. It’s why three confederate groups attempted a couple of years ago to put up a large confederate flag across the Interstate from Alabama State University, a historically black college.

And it’s why, most of all, they run around waving a flag that was never an official flag of the Confederacy, but was the battle flag of one confederate army and was later adopted by the KKK and other hate groups.

Because the history doesn’t matter to these people. And those who are interested in it would be just as well served visiting the monuments in a museum.

So, Mayor, I’m suggesting you do the right thing and set an example for other cities around the state to follow.

Tear that statue down.

 

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Opinion | Why do Alabama governors insist on taking the unpopular path?

Josh Moon

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We’re doing it again.

The same thing. We’re doing the same thing again, and hoping for a different outcome. Which I believe is the definition of insanity. And that might as well be our state motto at this point.

Alabama: The Insane State.

The state where the people continue to elect people who promise to do the same things as the last people who we hated, and who will eventually totally renege on those promises and try to do the opposite.

Case in point: Kay Ivey.

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At her inauguration on Monday, Ivey was all smiles and upbeat rhetoric. She talked of steadying the ship and putting Alabamians back to work. And she was governor while those things happened, so the rules say she gets credit, even if it’s mighty tough to pinpoint exactly what it is that she did to cause any of those good things.

But Ivey also dropped a few hints about the future.

To no one’s surprise, she discussed a gas tax without ever saying the word “tax,” and she talked about a new prison construction proposal.

Actually, neither of those ideas is “new,” and the proposals Ivey and the Legislature will put forth in the coming months won’t be new either. We’ve been talking about prisons for three years now, if not longer, and the gas tax was kicked around during the last legislative session.

And both will be met with roughly the same amount of disdain by voters this time around.

No matter how badly we might need to renovate our current prisons or build new ones, the average Alabama voter doesn’t want to do that. In fact, those voters have proven to be amazingly willing to let prisoners out of jail, if the alternative is a higher tax bill.

And on the gas tax front, yeah, that’s a big ol’ no.

I’m sorry, but you can’t set up a state income tax system that charges janitors more than CEOs, leaving the state with consistently no money to make necessary repairs to infrastructure, and then ask the working stiffs to pick up the bill for those repairs when things fall completely apart. And make them pay for it by charging them more to get to work every day.  

I don’t care that we just held elections and most lawmakers are safe for another four years. You vote for that sort of a tax on working people, and it’ll hang around your neck for the rest of your political career. What’s left of it.

If you doubt this, ask Robert Bentley.

He tried something similar. Actually, come to think of it, he was a lot like Ivey following his re-election in 2014. Very popular. Had pledged not to raise taxes. Was generally trusted by most people around the state.

And then he hit people with a proposal for a cigarette tax.

His whole world blew up from that point forward.

Because it’s not right. Taxing gas or taxing cigarettes is a coward’s tax.

It’s an admission that you know we don’t have enough revenue but you’re not brave enough to attack the real problem — to raise property taxes or restructure our state income tax.

Or to do what’s popular: Legalize gambling.

Why do Alabama Republicans continue to run from legalized gaming? It makes zero sense, considering the massive edge they hold in statewide voting and the unprecedented popularity of gambling among Republican voters.

Poll after poll shows that conservative voters in Alabama now massively favor legalizing gambling. In one of the more recent polls, more than 60 percent of likely Republican voters were in favor of a vote to legalize full-fledged casinos with sportsbooks.

And yet, Ivey, like the two governors who came before her, will stand on a stage at her inauguration and push for two completely unpopular ideas —— prisons and a gas tax — but never speak of the one subject that’s both popular and could raise enough money to pay for the infrastructure repairs. And the prisons.

So, here we are again. Another governor who thinks she can thumb her nose at the will of the people. Another governor who seems hellbent on ignoring a popular solution. Another fight that will lead to nowhere.

Insanity. That’s what it is.

 

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Crime

Opinion | Slain Birmingham officer needed our help

Josh Moon

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On Sunday, Birmingham Police Sergeant Wytasha Carter was shot and killed by some criminals who were apparently trying to break into cars.

Carter died at the scene. His partner was also shot, and remains in critical condition at UAB Hospital.

It was senseless. And stupid. And maddening.

And not at all unpredictable.

In fact, it’s astounding that it has taken this long for a cop in one of the most violent cities in America — one of the most violent industrialized nations on earth — to be killed. Carter was the first police officer murdered in the city in 14 years.

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In that same city, more than 200 people have been killed — most of them by gunfire — in just the past TWO YEARS.

And it will get worse.

It will get worse because we continue to turn a blind eye to the root causes of the violence that permeates our major cities: under-education, extreme poverty, drug use and a flood of easy-to-obtain firearms.

To put that another way: you have large groups of people who are hopeless, desperate and angry. They have been failed at every step of their lives — by their parents, their government, their schools and their justice system. They have been immersed in horrific violence since birth. They have no idea what acceptable conflict resolution even is, much less how to practice it. And they have been afforded ridiculously easy access to any firearm they would like.

A few years ago, as Montgomery suffered through one of the ugliest and deadliest years on record, I spent several days essentially hanging out in the highest crime neighborhoods — the projects, the abandoned apartment buildings, the neighborhoods you tell your kids to avoid when they start driving.

What I found was depressing.

Because these were not bad people, They were not lazy or unmotivated. They were not happy with their lives, nor were they particularly hostile.

They were hopeless.

Every single day mothers in those neighborhoods sent their kids off to schools that they knew were failing them. Every day, they prayed that their kids found some crack to slip through and into a better life — maybe they would be great at sports or a gifted student who landed in a magnet program or … hell, anything.

But deep down, they knew.

They knew that at some point reality would take hold. Their kids, lured by quick and easy money, would fall into the gangs. The violence and crime would take root and become common. Juvenile detention facilities would follow. And probably, if their kids survived, jail and prison.

The stories are more nuanced, and there are more twists and turns along the way, but this was life in a nutshell for a good chunk of Alabama’s capital city.

The people had no hope.

And when such a thing happens, when you remove hope from hurting people, you also remove a valuation of life. Their life seems to be so utterly unvalued by everyone, so why should they value yours?

Or a cop’s?

This is where we are. And it’s getting worse.

You can get angry and stomp your feet and pretend that sticking kids in electric chairs or locking ‘em all up is going to solve it, but it’s not. Deep down, after centuries of that nonsense, surely you all know that by now.

The only thing that will solve it is love.

Until we love the poor kids, the black kids, the brown kids and all of the other kids who are a little bit different, this will never get better. Until we are as invested in the kids who dress in ratty clothes and have bad attitudes, in the kids who don’t speak the language well and who fight first and ask questions later, we will continue to produce murderers and cop killers.

It seems that Sgt. Carter knew this.

In interviews with local media outlets, those who knew Carter best said he served Birmingham because he wanted to make a difference in his city. He wanted kids and the good people to feel some measure of safety. He wanted kids to know there were alternatives to the gangs..

But mostly, he wanted the people in the worst parts of his city to simply know that someone cared about them.

Sgt. Carter didn’t die because his efforts were naive or misguided, or because the people he tried to help are too hopeless.

He died because not enough us joined him.

 

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Opinion | There’s a reason the state legislature has no oversight of the AHSAA

Josh Moon

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Kyle South is the reason that the Alabama Legislature has no authority over the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

South, a Republican state representative from Fayette, announced on Wednesday that he would be filing legislation that, if passed, would give the state legislature and the Alabama Department of Education some oversight of AHSAA rulings and governance.

Except … they can’t.

The AHSAA, in its current form, was established by a federal court order in 1968. That order gives it unique standing and authority, specifically removing it from the reaches of misguided, misinformed, overzealous and downright ignorant politicians motivated by personal interests, personal gain and personal relationships.

In other words, it is protected from politicians like Kyle South and the 87 House members who have signed on as co-sponsors to an unwritten piece of legislation. (Which tells you a lot about Alabama. We have raw sewage causing 19th century parasites to return in Lowndes County, and not whimper, but someone not being able to play a game draws three-quarters of the House.)

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It’s not hard to understand why South and so many other politicians are up in arms about the Maori Davenport situation. When you’ve lived your life governed by the Alabama Ethics Commission and working in the most corrupt state house in America, it must be quite the shock to the system to see a governing body actually uphold rules and apply them properly.

That’s what happened in Davenport case.

In case you’re somehow unaware, Maori Davenport is the now-famous high school player from Troy’s Charles Henderson High who was ruled ineligible by the AHSAA for accepting and cashing an $857.20 check mistakenly sent to her by USA Basketball. The check was compensation for her time playing for the US U18 national team, which was supposed to only be sent to college players, but was inadvertently sent to the three high school players.

Everyone involved in this, including officials from the AHSAA who I’ve spoken with, believe Davenport to be an innocent victim of a series of poor choices and bad mistakes. But in the end, the AHSAA found that the actions of Davenport’s mother violated the state’s amateurism rule. It ruled Maori Davenport ineligible and that ruling was unanimously upheld by two different committees — following hours of hearings — made up of 19 principals, athletic directors and superintendents from districts all around Alabama.

You would think that such widespread agreement among lifelong educators — the overwhelming majority of whom wouldn’t know Maori Davenport if she was standing in the room next to them — would cause elected leaders to pause and wonder if maybe they don’t know the entire story before jumping on this bandwagon.

But then, why take that time when there’s so much free PR out there?

Had they bothered to take any time, or to, say, call any of the board members and ask questions, phone up the AHSAA and talk to executive director Steve Savarese, what they would have heard was a story much different than the one presented in most media stories, and particularly the one presented by ESPN’s Jay Bilas.

That’s not entirely the media’s fault. The AHSAA can’t officially discuss most of what led to its decision to suspend Davenport, which leaves media outlets with one side screaming about unfair treatment and the other side sitting behind bland, lawyered-up statements.

But on background, and under their breath, and in quiet voices, many of the people directly involved in this case are happy to talk — eager to talk. And what they’ll tell you, and show you, are facts that explain their unanimous votes.

These people who work for the AHSAA and serve on their boards didn’t ask for the unending downpour of stupidity that is falling on them. But they’re fairly used to it at this point. They get it constantly for doing a thankless job that often allows incompetent or corrupt coaches and parents to hide from the blame that come from situations like Davenport’s.

Situations in which parents and coaches and principals fail miserably and intentionally, and then blame the AHSAA for hurting the player.

And right on cue, here comes a pandering bunch of politicians, smelling easy votes like sharks smell blood, working on half information and full emotion.

Which is exactly why the AHSAA isn’t beholden to the state legislature. It’s one of the main reasons it still functions semi-effectively.

 

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With sportsbooks legal, Alabama has an opportunity to change its future

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