Connect with us

Josh Moon

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

Josh Moon

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

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.

Continue Reading

Elections

Opinion | Kay Ivey’s official calendar is surprisingly empty

Josh Moon

Published

on

In late-August and early-September, there was one question dominating Alabama’s governor’s race.

Where is Kay Ivey?

The governor at that point had scarcely been seen in a few days. In one 10-day stretch, she held no public events and somehow managed to avoid even local ribbon cuttings and bridge openings. And her opponent’s campaign was raising questions about her lack of activity.

Walt Maddox, at that point, had already challenged Ivey to a series of debates. She declined, offering a number of excuses, including that she was “busy governing the state.” She had also told her Republican primary challengers that she was “too busy” to debate them.

So, I wanted to know: Who was telling the truth? Was it a big deal? Was Ivey too busy?

Advertisement

There was only one way to find out: I filed an Alabama Open Records Act request for Ivey’s official calendar for a three-week span (Aug. 24 through Sept. 14).

That span, I figured, would provide a solid look into Ivey’s days and would cover all of the days that the Maddox campaign had questioned her whereabouts.

On Wednesday, after paying $17 and some change to a public entity to produce public records that the public had already paid to be produced once, APR was provided with copies of Ivey’s official calendar.

Counting every entry on the calendar for 21 days — including travel time to and from the governor’s mansion (which apparently takes 30 minutes) and air travel to a variety of meetings and ribbon cuttings — there are less than 60 hours accounted for.

That’s less than three hours per day.

But it’s actually worse than that, because most of that time is compacted into a handful of days, leaving large chunks of time — whole calendar pages — simply blank.

In total, seven days were blank. Three other days had just one entry.

In one calendar week — Sunday, Sept. 2, thru Saturday, Sept. 8 — Ivey’s calendar shows just three and a half hours of scheduled time.

That week, her days were completely blank on Sunday, Labor Day Monday and Tuesday. She had a single phone call on Wednesday and a single meeting on Thursday. She hosted the Alabama Association of Regional Councils on Friday morning and wrapped up the grueling week with a proclamation signing at 10:30 a.m. that Friday.

I’ll remind you that this is the governor — a governor in the midst of a campaign.

You would think her calendar would be crammed with events and meetings and staff scrums and trips all over the place.

But … there’s just nothing.

And that’s not normal. I know that for a fact.

I’ve been to the Alabama Archives and sorted through the official calendars for the last three governors of this state. None of their calendars look like Ivey’s. Not even close.

I shared photos on Facebook Wednesday night of entries from random days on Robert Bentley’s calendar. In some instances, his days spilled over onto a second page.

The same was true with Bob Riley. His days, like Bentley’s, seemed to be planned from morning until night. Every day. Even on the weekends.

What’s happening with Kay Ivey should raise eyebrows and a ton of questions. Mainly: Can she actually do this job?

I think that’s a fair question at this point, after the public freeze-ups, the long disappearances, the managed time by her staff, the refusal to debate, and now these nearly blank calendar days.

And then there are two other questions:

Who is running this state?

And who are you voting for?

 

Continue Reading

Elections

Opinion | A breakdown of Ivey’s ever-changing story on her Colorado illness, trooper demotion

Josh Moon

Published

on

It’s tough to keep a good lie going.

The problem isn’t so much the original lie, even if it’s a doozy. The trouble comes on the back side, when you have to start piling lies on top of lies to make that original lie hold up. And then you have to keep it all straight.

The Kay Ivey administration knows what I’m talking about.

Unless a whole bunch of other people are lying, Ivey and her staff have been lying all over the place to try and cover up a 2015 incident in which Ivey, then the state’s lieutenant governor, suffered a series of mini-strokes. Or at least something that appeared to be mini-strokes, or TIAs.

They’ve been scrambling ever since.

Advertisement

And over such a dumb lie, too. Who cares if a 70-year-old woman had a mini-stroke, or something that appeared to be a mini-stroke? Hell, 30-year-old men and women who are in decent shape have those things. They’re not necessarily indicative of poor overall health, although they do indicate a higher risk for future strokes.

But still, why lie? I’m guessing a lot more people would vote for a gubernatorial candidate who admitted to having a mini-stroke than for one who everyone knows is lying about a mini-stroke and who wrongly punished a state trooper for simply following the protocols of his job.

It seems Ivey now finds herself in the latter category. And I think it’s important to understand how we got here.

In this world of abundant news, it’s easy to forget facts and leave entries off the timeline. So, let’s paint this full picture.

Ivey’s “health issue” occurred in 2015 when she was in Colorado Springs for a meeting of the Aerospace States Association. According to her own comments about the incident, she felt lightheaded during the meeting’s opening day, a Friday, and was admitted to the hospital that day. She was released on Sunday.

For the better part of two years, the coverup of the incident was successful, because, let’s be honest, who really cares what’s happening in the personal life of the lieutenant governor. But shortly after Ivey ascended to the big chair following Robert Bentley’s embarrassing demise, whispers about her poor health began.

In May 2017, citing multiple sources close to the governor, APR’s Bill Britt published the first account of the health scare and the coverup, including details of Ivey having a state trooper working her security detail, Drew Brooks, demoted and shipped off to work in a drivers license office in Houston County.

Ivey and her top officials screamed it was fake news.

In multiple settings, including a sitdown interview with al.com’s Mike Cason, Ivey and her chief of staff, Steve Pelham, flatly denied almost all of it.

Ivey said she had actually suffered from “altitude sickness,” which apparently requires a three-day hospital stay now. She told al.com’s Leada Gore that the trooper, Brooks, was “promoted,” because working drivers licenses in Dothan at a 25-percent pay reduction is every cop’s dream assignment.

Pelham told Cason that there was no directive and no punishment.

And for a while, it all died down.

But on Tuesday, the bad lie came back to life, as they have a tendency to do. This time, Britt had a bigger story: Collier, the head of ALEA, was on the record backing up every word of what Britt and APR reported back in 2017.

And we got the receipts too.

Collier, the guy who actually signed Brooks’ transfer order, confirmed that Ivey’s head of security reported to him in 2015 that Ivey was suffering from “stroke-like symptoms” and was being rushed to the hospital in Colorado. Collier reported that information to Bentley and remained in contact with the security detail.

Sometime after Ivey returned from that trip, she summoned Collier to the law offices of Balch & Bingham, because those offices are the Alabama equivalent to the Bada Bing, apparently, where all the bad plans in the state are concocted. At that meeting, she informed Collier that she wanted Brooks demoted and transferred, and claimed Brooks had attempted to hack her email.

Documents obtained by APR show that Brooks — who Ivey and Pelham claimed was promoted — was actually forced off the lieutenant governor’s security detail — a highly sought after position with top pay — and moved to Dothan to give license exams for about $300 less per month in salary.

Does that sound like a promotion?

But you know what’s coming now, right? More lies to cover up the faltering lies.

Later on Tuesday, Ivey’s office released another letter from her doctor to prove that she is in great health and absolutely, 100-percent has never had a stroke. Small problem: in discussing the Colorado incident, Ivey’s doctor stated that she was hospitalized in Denver, which is a little more than an hour from Colorado Springs, where Ivey was when she became ill.

It’s tough to imagine a three-day hospitalization at a large hospital an hour away for altitude sickness. But then, this isn’t my (fictional) story.

So far, the Ivey camp hasn’t addressed Collier’s allegations about Brooks. Instead, Ivey tried to blame the whole thing on Walt Maddox, which, if true, really confirms that we should all be voting for Maddox because that dude’s a wizard.

It’s a sad state of affairs. But that’s usually the case when lies start to unravel.

 

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Maddox is pro-life, pro-gun — and the Ivey campaign is freaking out

Josh Moon

Published

on

The Kay Ivey campaign threw a bit of a hissy fit earlier this week.

You probably missed it, since it took place mostly on old fashioned radio and rightwing blogs, but there was outrage aplenty.

Because Walt Maddox, who’s running against Ivey for governor, released his first statewide campaign ad and revealed that he’s both pro-life and pro-second amendment.

And whooooo boy, the Ivey campaign went crazy.

In a bizarre, angry statement, Ivey’s handlers called Maddox a liar — an allegation for which they offered zero proof — and then tossed in some Sarah Palin-like buzzwords and pretended to be just aghast that Maddox would say such things.

Advertisement

“Walt Maddox promises not to lie, yet he just told two lies in 30 seconds. That takes lying to a whole new level – even for a politician like Walt Maddox,” the Ivey campaign wrote, and then paused for a breath.

While that all might seem a bit over the top, it’s actually understandable.

Because the phony issues of abortion and guns are all the Ivey campaign has.

If they can’t use those, and instead have to run on Ivey’s record of staying the hell out of sight, they’re toast. And they know it.

So, they can’t sit idly by and allow Maddox to tell people what he believes. They have to attack him and call him a liar.

And as proof of his lies, they offer … well, nothing.

Because mayors, like governors, don’t have a voice in the abortion argument. So, Maddox has no record of opposing abortion. He has two children, so he’s at least been pro-life twice. And there’s nothing to suggest that he doesn’t believe exactly what he says he does.

As for guns, I have a newsflash for you rightwingers: lots of people on the left own and enjoy shooting firearms of all sorts. Quite a few of us are pretty good at it. And even more of us think that owning a gun for personal protection is a right that we’d like to protect.

The fact is there are a whole bunch of Democrats who fall all over the map on both issues. Because both issues, despite what the fringes of both sides would have you believe, are incredibly complicated and nuanced.

Of course, that’s not the way the Ivey campaign wants to present them. There’s only abortion and not abortion, guns and not guns.

But how Ivey herself would respond to the specifics of each question — for example, what would she do in the instances of rape, or does she favor stronger protections to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms — is unknown.

That’s because she’s refused to debate, where the specifics of complicated issues often get exposed as candidates go back and forth and voters are given an opportunity to better understand the issues and the candidates’ positions.

Ivey has run scared from those, because she knows the truth.

Walt Maddox isn’t some super-liberal. He’s a moderate with a better track record of actually doing things. If Ivey participated in a debate with Maddox, and his actual views and ideas were presented side-by-side with hers, all the PAC money in the world couldn’t save her.

Instead of debating, Ivey continues to hide behind her PR people and participate in 2-minute press scrums and softball radio interviews — places where she can toss out folksy soundbites without ever being truly challenged on her beliefs, lack of ideas and zero accomplishments.

Her handlers are hoping to do just enough to distract voters from these facts.

Maddox took away two of their shiny objects this week.

That’s why they were so mad.

 

Continue Reading

Elections

Opinion | 2017 Steve Marshall vs. 2018 Steve Marshall

Josh Moon

Published

on

2017 Steve Marshall would really hate 2018 Steve Marshall.

Do you remember 2017 Steve Marshall?

That fresh-faced guy who rolled into Montgomery, appointed by Robert Bentley, and swearing to follow the law and exhibit ethics and morals and junk? He wasn’t going to compromise himself or operate a quid pro quo AG’s office.

And the one thing that 2017 Steve Marshall was absolutely sure of was that Alabama’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers was legal and righteous and “the only legal protection standing between Alabama voters and the reality or appearance of quid pro quo corruption.”

Those were 2017 Steve Marshall’s words.

Advertisement

And we know he meant them, because he put them on paper and filed them in a court of law, where he has an obligation to be truthful.

That’s how 2017 Steve Marshall described Alabama’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers in a court filing defending that law.

Marshall’s opponent for the AG’s seat, Joseph Siegelman, pointed out 2017 Steve Marshall’s words in a letter Siegelman sent to the Alabama Ethics Commission on Oct. 4. APR obtained a copy of that letter, which spells out in detail how Marshall violated the law he was defending and has since contradicted himself in his explanations.

Marshall’s violation is easy to follow. He took money from a PAC funded by the Republican Attorneys General Association. That PAC accepts money from other PACs and from PACs that participate in PAC-to-PAC transfers, therefore making almost all of the money in that PAC illegal to accept in Alabama.

2018 Steve Marshall took in $735,000 worth of that illegal money.

Somewhere, 2017 Steve Marshall is sooooo disappointed.

Because 2017 Steve Marshall didn’t just believe that Alabama’s ban on PAC transfer money — a method used to hide the original source of campaign donations — was good, he also believed that accepting such money was illegal.

As Siegelman points out in his letter to the Ethics Commission, 2017 Steve Marshall also argued in that same court filing that Alabama’s ban made those contributions illegal: “No PAC has any right to receive PAC-transferred funds for making candidate contributions.”

That seems fairly cut and dried, right?

Well, see, that’s where 2018 Steve Marshall would beg to differ. Because 2018 Steve Marshall believes he’s found a loophole in that law.

Now, you might be asking yourself why the AG of Alabama would be looking for a loophole to circumvent a law that he described as so important that it was Alabamians’ only legal protection against quid pro quo corruption. Well, obviously, the answer is money and power at all costs, but let’s set that aside for a moment.

Because 2018 Steve Marshall’s loophole is stupid. And in no way a loophole.

Siegelman points out that 2018 Steve Marshall has essentially taken two approaches: First, in court filings, he has claimed that decades’ old guidance documents issued by the Alabama Secretary of State’s office say that federal PACs do not have to adhere to Alabama law.

That is not accurate, and the executive director of the Ethics Commission is on record stating that the SOS office has been told repeatedly that its documents are inaccurate because of the new law, which was passed in 2010. Additionally, 2018 Steve Marshall’s office is fully aware of the law and the fact that former AG Luther Strange was forced to return identical RAGA donations because they violated the law.

Second, 2018 Steve Marshall went on TV earlier this year, after being challenged on the donations, and made the claim that the violation of the law wasn’t on him, but on the PAC. Basically, he’s saying that the law prohibits PAC-to-PAC transfers, doesn’t say anything about accepting them.

Except, well, it does.

As Siegelman explains in his letter, the statute that bans PAC-to-PAC transfers also requires the candidate who receives funds that are in violation of the ban to return those funds within 10 days to avoid criminal prosecution.

Guess who still hasn’t returned his RAGA PAC donations?

2017 Steve Marshall would not be happy.

 

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

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

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
0