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Analysis | The myth of the “simple lottery bill”

Josh Moon

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There is no such thing as a “simple lottery bill” in the state of Alabama.

You hear this phrase a lot from state lawmakers, as they field the inevitable questions about gambling that pop up prior to each legislative session or prior to elections in which one candidate — usually a Democrat — has proposed a lottery to raise state revenues.

And right on cue, with Walt Maddox running for governor and the state facing huge budget deficits in 2019, the lottery question has surfaced again.

And again, state lawmakers have proclaimed that the only thing that will pass in this state is a “simple lottery bill.”

What they mean by that, of course, is they want to pass a bill that approves only a statewide lottery, with no provisions for legalizing other gambling, such as electronic bingo, video lottery terminals or table games. (Also, keep in mind that any legislation passed by lawmakers would have to go on a ballot and be approved by state voters, since the state’s constitution outlaws gambling.)

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The problem with that is it ignores the very complicated, very nuanced world of Native American gaming law.

To put it simply: Because Alabama has a federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, that’s already operating casinos, the implementation of a lottery would almost assure the Poarch Creeks the right to operate casinos with a higher class of casino games, and would likely lead to the tribe operating full-fledged casinos, complete with table games and real slot machines. 

While that would be great for the Poarch Creeks, it wouldn’t be the best path for the state, at least from a revenue standpoint. Non-Indian casinos can be taxed at much higher rates and stand to bring the state much higher revenue numbers.

To understand why a “simple lottery bill” is a misnomer, you have to read about three dozen federal court and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and a number of news stories on the fights between states and tribes. It also wouldn’t hurt to talk to a few attorneys, and read a few legal opinions, from people who have no dog in Alabama’s fight.

Luckily for you, I’ve done all of that. And while I’m no attorney, and don’t even play one on TV, I am pretty good at repeating stuff I’ve been told and acting like I know what I’m talking about.

So, here’s the condensed version of all that.

IGRA breaks gambling into three categories: Class I, which is social games such as raffles and junk; Class II, which is bingo and lotto; and Class III, which is everything else, including table games, slot machines and — here’s the biggie — lotteries.

Under IGRA, in order for a tribe to be able to offer any sort of Class II or Class III gaming, games that fall into those categories must be legal elsewhere in the state where the tribe’s lands are located. (This is why the Poarch Creeks can offer electronic bingo, a Class II game, in Alabama — because bingo is legally played in Alabama elsewhere, and the federal government, unlike Alabama’s courts, determined that the game can be played electronically.)

Also, IGRA requires that states and tribes enter into compacts before the tribes can offer the games that fall in Class III. That requirement provides some protections to states, ensuring that it can have some say-so over the more serious casino-style gaming.

But there’s also a protection built in for tribes, and this is where the lottery component opens things up for the Poarch Creeks.

IGRA, enforced by the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior, requires states that offer Class III gaming to negotiate in good faith with tribes seeking a compact. Until a recent federal court ruling in Florida, tribes could compel states to negotiate through the use of the courts, but a sovereign immunity ruling in Florida’s favor upended that avenue.

Instead, now, if a state refuses to negotiate with a tribe, the Secretary of the Interior can simply implement a gaming plan on his own for that tribe, legalizing Class III gaming with or without the state’s consent.

So, what does all of that mean for Alabama?

It means that approving a lottery for the state opens up other possibilities for the Poarch Creeks, and could result in the state being either forced into a compact or forced to allow some form of Class III gaming.

I say “some form,” because generally speaking, the NIGC will not allow the tribes to offer games that are not offered in the state. But as we’ve seen with the electronic bingo v. traditional bingo argument, there is some wiggle room in the definitions.

Most likely what we could bank on is this: If a lottery passes, the Poarch Creeks would then have the right to operate their own lottery. Just like with the liberal definitions of “bingo,” the NIGC has also been flexible on lottery games, such as video lottery terminals (VLTs), allowing them in most cases. And the courts, with a few nuanced exceptions, have mostly backed the tribes in any disputes.

VLTs operate similar to slots and mimic the paper scratch-offs. They’re faster than electronic bingo games, and due to their popularity in other states, the VLT games and machine offerings are much more advanced and nuanced.

That would, of course, automatically give the Poarch Creeks a leg up over non-Indian casinos. As if the tribe needs another one at this point.

But it would also severely limit the state’s ability to earn revenue from both its lottery and the revenue available from gaming.

And it’s why there is no such thing as a “simple lottery bill” in Alabama.

 

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Elections

Opinion | Walt Maddox has lost his mind

Josh Moon

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Walt Maddox is nuts.

That’s the only explanation I have for what the man’s doing — going around the state and trying to engage voters on the issues. Holding press conferences talking about health care and offering plans for increasing Medicaid coverage.

The guy’s got an infrastructure plan. He’s got an education plan.

He’s got details and costs and information on how we can do it all and actually pay for it.

And this nonsense is what he believes will get him elected governor.

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See? Nutty as a fruitcake, that Walt Maddox.

Because Alabama voters do not care about such trivial things as an improved quality of life, better education for their kids and increased job opportunities that actually pay you enough to live and eat.

They don’t care.

Trust me on this. I’ve been banging my head against this particular wall for all of my life.

I screamed and screamed and screamed some more over Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. I pointed out the benefits and the zero costs. And I pointed out the meticulous studies done that showed massive increases in jobs, revenue and health services if that expansion occurred.

You know what people cared about?

That it was named after the black president.

That’s right. This bunch of hillbillies would rather drive across two counties while suffering a heart attack than give the “libs” the pleasure of knowing that their health care plan wasn’t terrible.

Oh, but that’s not even the most mind-boggling conversation I’ve had with Alabama voters.

That honor goes to anyone opposing gambling.

This is inevitably the dumbest debate. Because it starts with a flawed premise — that any lottery or gambling bill passed in the state — like the one Maddox is proposing — would “bring gambling to Alabama.”

I was in one of the three legally operating casinos in this state a month ago. I’ve known people who place bets with bookies or on online gambling sites. I’ve attended cash bingo games where thousands of dollars changed hands. I’ve bet on both dogs and horses, legally. And I’ve stood in line just across the borders in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida to buy lottery tickets.

Gambling has been here for decades now. The only thing we don’t have are the tax revenues that are paying for other states’ kids to attend colleges, eliminating other states’ food taxes and helping fund thousands of classrooms in other states.

But the voters here, they don’t care.

That’s why they keep electing goobers who vote against even allowing Alabama citizens to vote on the issue. Because democracy is great unless the majority is going to agree on something you don’t like.

This is the reality facing Walt Maddox, as he travels around the state on a bus, trying to pretend that Alabama voters know that a governor can’t influence either abortion laws or gun laws, but can ensure their children get to see a doctor this year.

The voters in this state are so unconcerned with the issues that they don’t really care if Kay Ivey ever debates Maddox. Because, honestly, they’d rather not know that she has no ideas, can’t think on her feet and can’t lead in a crisis.

It’s much easier to not know. To just vote blindly for the GOP candidate, convinced that it’ll all work out eventually (even though it never, ever has).

Walt Maddox foolishly believes that he can reason with these people, that at some point their sense of self-preservation will kick in, that they’ll grow tired of remaining stuck living paycheck to paycheck, that the GOP corruption will finally chase them to at least consider another option.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that Walt Maddox is nuts.

 

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Opinion | The plan to kill public education in Alabama is succeeding

Josh Moon

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Put the flashlights away, Jason Taylor has been located.

Maybe.

The Alabama State Department of Education’s $700,000 accountant is still working for the state, just not doing much — or anything, depending on who you ask — for the Montgomery Public Schools.

Instead, according to ALSDE spokesman Dr. Michael Sibley, Taylor is spending the majority of his time working with other school systems in the state, in an attempt to be more proactive and avoid issues like the ones plaguing MPS.

At least, that’s one story.

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A state school board member recently said that Alabama state superintendent Eric Mackey told the board earlier this month that Taylor was spending most of his time working in MPS.

This was news to the MPS system’s new CFO, Arthur Watts, who told his own board members that he speaks with Taylor a couple of times per week but has no idea what Taylor is working on.

You know what? I don’t even care who’s right or what the truth is.

Because at the end of the day, here’s all that matters: The Montgomery intervention has been a complete and utter dumpster fire.

Take the $700,000 being paid to Taylor, add it to the multiple six-figure contracts awarded to wholly unqualified and now-departed administrators, add that to the raises to every principal, the legal fees out the wazoo and a ridiculous cleaning bill, and you know what you get?

You get a seven-figure tab paid out by one of the brokest state departments of education in the country and by the brokest school district in that state, and somehow, someway they have failed to help one single child.

There has been no purchase of additional supplies or books. There have been no additional teachers hired. There has been not one advancement of school safety equipment, whether a security officer, a metal detector or just a damn floor mat to keep kids from slipping down on a rainy day.

Nothing.

Zip. Zero. Zilch.

And you know why this travesty has occurred?

Because somewhere along the way, like with everything else in this state, public education was hijacked by greed and self-interest and, ultimately, corruption.

That’s how we ended up with Mike Sentance in the first place — a corrupt search undermined by a state board member (who lacks self awareness to such an astonishing degree that she’s writing blog posts bemoaning corruption) and steered to land a pro-business candidate. Instead of, you know, the candidate who was best qualified to fix education.

None of the people behind that ruse cared about teaching and learning.

They cared about training kids to work in the factories of the companies to which they have given ridiculous economic incentive packages. Because teaching students to read and write and do complicated equations is hard damn work and just takes too much money. Lots easier to just train ‘em for the job you want them to have instead of producing well-rounded citizens with career options.

This has been the dream of the business class in this state for years.

Montgomery was to be the first test in this plan — a combination of trade schools and charters and conversion charters.

But like all things done in Alabama, it turned into the powerful white men trying to force a system change on everyone else. Instead of doing things the right way and presenting well-meaning, well-intentioned ideas to the general public and building support for a comprehensive plan that benefitted all students, ALSDE and Montgomery leaders went with the we-know-what’s-best-for-you-so-shut-up approach.

And it has been an unmitigated disaster.

Which is how you end up with a $700,000 accountant who isn’t accounting. And a superintendent who lasts a year. And your third largest school system in, astonishingly, a bigger mess than it was before the state intervened and spent millions.

What’s happened, and continues to happen, in Montgomery is a microcosm of the failures in public education around Alabama.

Greedy people making selfish decisions, with the best interest of educating ALL children near the bottom of the priority list, and lining their pockets and the pockets of people like them at the very top of that list.

From the AAA to charter schools to pathetic funding to phony “failing schools” lists to ignorant rants over Common Core, these people have been hell bent on ruining public education in Alabama for decades.

And it’s the only thing in education at which they’re succeeding.

 

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Opinion | Maddox is right: The state shouldn’t pay for Bentley’s attorneys

Josh Moon

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Should the state be footing the bill for attorneys to defend former Gov. Robert Bentley in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier?

Gov. Kay Ivey says it should, that the state has an obligation to do so under the law.

Her challenger for the seat she currently holds, Walt Maddox, says no, and that Ivey is wrong about the state’s requirement to do so.

The war of words about the lawsuit started last week, when the Maddox camp questioned why the state was still footing the bill — a bill that’s surpassed $300,000 so far — to defend Bentley. Ivey responded to questions about the payments to Bentley’s attorneys over the weekend, saying it was appropriate to pay the bill, because the law requires it.

On Tuesday, the Maddox campaign issued a press release saying Ivey is mistaken about the law.

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And so, here we are.

First things first, let’s back up and explain just what’s going on.

Near the end of his tenure as governor, Bentley had a falling out with Collier over a request the Alabama Attorney General’s office was making of Collier. Basically, the AG’s office wanted Collier to file an affidavit about an investigation that was sort of related to the Mike Hubbard prosecution.

Bentley ordered Collier not to provide an affidavit and to instead tell the AG’s office that the investigation was ongoing.

Collier was concerned that lying to the AG’s investigator would violate the law. (It definitely does.) So, instead, he worked with Bentley’s legal advisor and issued a watered-down affidavit. When Bentley discovered what had been done, he fired Collier.

Collier, in his court filings, claims Bentley then set out to destroy him professionally through an investigation into misappropriated funds in ALEA and a smear campaign that, among other things, alleged that Collier was a drug addict.

So, Collier filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Ordinarily, such lawsuits would be kicked quickly by judges because state employees, such as the governor, enjoy immunity from lawsuits that arise from official acts. And in this case, Judge Greg Griffin agreed and dismissed most of the counts in Collier’s lawsuit.

But he also found that some of Bentley’s actions — specifically, the parts in which he retaliated against Collier — fell outside of his official duties. And so, he allowed the lawsuit to move forward. 

You should also know just why we, the taxpayers, are paying for Bentley’s defense in the first place.

The State of Alabama has an insurance program known as the General Liability Trust Fund that is used to pay for the legal defense of state employees who are sued as a result of incidents that occur while these employees are doing their state jobs. It also is used to cover any settlements stemming from lawsuits against state employees.

The official wording from the Code of Alabama says the GLTF will be used to cover “acts or omissions committed by the covered employee while in the performance of their official duties in the line and scope of their employment.”

And that brings us back to the argument between Ivey and Maddox.

Ivey claims that the law says Bentley should be covered. The Maddox camp says that was true up until the point the judge in the case found that Bentley’s actions fell outside the scope of his official duties.

After speaking to a few attorneys, it seems that the Maddox camp is right.

Griffin’s decision to allow the case to move forward, and specifically rejecting the defense’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that Bentley was immune from prosecution, recast Bentley’s position. His actions had to fall outside of the scope of his official duties in order for the lawsuit to proceed, which means the state has no responsibility to cover him.

Of course, there’s one other option here: Ivey could simply settle the lawsuit.

Collier was clearly wronged, and the state has all but admitted as much. The guy nearly went broke because our former governor lost his mind. To continue on with this lawsuit and the defense of Bentley is not just a monumental waste of money, it’s an embarrassment.

And it’s one more example of the political elite in this state operating a system that ensures they’re protected no matter the crimes they commit or the egregious nature of their behavior.

Collier didn’t deserve what happened to him and the rest of us don’t deserve to watch our hard-earned dollars be squandered on Bentley’s high-priced attorneys.

 

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Opinion | Why are white people so scared?

Josh Moon

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Several Saturdays each Fall, Auburn University students, faculty and alumni — thousands of them — roll into Jordan Hare Stadium on campus to cheer for the school’s football team.

The majority of the players are black.

The school’s basketball teams — both mens and womens — are made up primarily of black players.

The school’s most recognized alumni, who have giant banners and statues on campus, are mostly black former athletes.

The Auburn marching band is influenced by the bands at historically black colleges.

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The music played at most athletic and other campus events comes mostly from black artists.

And yet, last weekend, when Auburn officials decided to honor the impact and influence of diversity on its campus, many of the students and alums and sidewalk fans reacted like … backwoods rednecks who had to shrug off their klan hoods on their way into the stadium.

There were fights. There were racist banners hung up by over-privileged frat boys. There were racist comments on several different university-operated social media pages.

It was, to put it bluntly, an utter embarrassment.

To the state. To all Auburn people.

The diversity weekend sponsored by the university was a fantastic idea, and holding it on the same weekend that the football team played Alabama State University, a historically black college in Montgomery, was a nice touch.

I know a lot of the people at ASU, including president Quinton Ross and several people in the athletic administration. They were genuinely excited about going to Auburn, playing that game and enjoying the gameday experience in an SEC venue.

They had no expectations of winning. They just wanted to compete, pick up some much needed cash for their program, show off their band and then head back down I-85. Everyone happy. Everything good.

What they got instead was a clown show from a bunch of racist morons.

But then, why am I surprised?

On a certain cable “news” network over the past several weeks, there have been hosts of opinion shows openly questioning “the value of diversity.” On something called “NRA TV” recently, there was a segment that put a children’s cartoon character in a KKK hood because the NRA hosts were trying, without success, to make some derogatory point about diversity. On college campuses all around the country, and especially in the South, there has been an uptick in controversial, racist speakers.

So, it should come as no surprise, I guess, that one of the most conservative campuses in America — a campus where such programming is consumed and parroted and where there exists a “white student union” — would be so resistant to recognizing the positive impacts of different perspectives and backgrounds.

I don’t understand what’s happening in America now.

For decades, we seemed to acknowledge that our racist ways were wrong, and at the very least everyone pretended to be in favor of equality and inclusion. We seemed genuinely intent on correcting the sins of the past and moving towards a country that lived up to its promises of equality for all men.

Now, almost overnight, there seems to be a shift back to a time when ignorant ideas, grounded in fear and hatred, were prevalent. Ideas that have convinced privileged white kids they’re being held back. Ideas that have left many white people living in fear.

And look, I’d love to pretend that it isn’t so bad, that people are making more out of it than they should. But then … Nazi sympathizers have been marching in American streets and the U.S. president said some of them were probably “good people.”

That’s a bit of a problem.

And the results of the spread of this nonsense were on display last weekend in Auburn, when the simple act of playing a historically black college so incensed people that they were a few steps away from fire hoses and dogs.

Enough is enough. White people need to get their stuff together and stop falling for the same tired fear tactics that have been used for centuries. America, like all countries, is never stronger than when it truly works together, ensuring the equality of all citizens.

 

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Analysis | The myth of the “simple lottery bill”

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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