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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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Opinion | Sellouts are running Alabama’s environmental agencies. Why don’t you care?

Josh Moon

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There is contaminated tap water in north Alabama.

There are no oysters in the Gulf.

There is poison soil in Birmingham.

There are polluted lakes and rivers throughout the state.

There have been coal ash spills and a stalled poop train and imported toxic waste too dangerous for other states to allow.

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There’s a poison plume running under all of downtown Montgomery.

This is Alabama Outdoors.

In a state where at least 90 percent of the males hunt or fish with some regularity, and state law requires at least every third car have a “Salt Life” back window sticker, we don’t seem to give two good damns about the actual environment that make those things possible.

And we sure don’t seem to care much about the people who are supposed to be in charge of protecting those things.

If you did, you would know that two of those people were indicted this week on ethics charges. There are serious — and widely known and widely believed and widely supported with a mountain of evidence — allegations that Trey Glenn, the current head of the EPA’s southeastern region, and Scott Phillips, a former commissioner with the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, accepted bribes from polluters to actively work against cleaning up pollution and holding those polluters responsible.

Or to put that more simply: They sold out.

They sold out you.

They sold out the environment.

They sold out their oaths.

(Allegedly, of course.)

And these two aren’t the first ones. If you paid the least bit of attention to the recent trial involving a former Balch & Bingham attorney and a former Drummond Co. executive, you heard of all sorts of shady dealings flowing back and forth between companies highly suspected of polluting our soil, air and water and the agencies — Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), EPA and AEMC — that are supposed to stand in the gap between us regular folk and big business.

Instead, it seems, these guys have spent most of their time standing in big businesses’ pockets.

In addition to Phillips to Glenn, ADEM head Lance LeFleur was accused of having a cozy relationship with Drummond, and once wrote a letter opposing the EPA’s listing of a pollution area in north Birmingham as a superfund site. In court testimony, attorneys openly questioned if that letter was written at the encouragement of Drummond and its attorney.

A few weeks after the trial, 12 environmental groups sent a letter to AEMC demanding that LeFleur be removed and cited examples of his department’s failures and compromises. LeFleur denied the allegations, calling them “mean-spirited” and “untrue.”

But the problems don’t even end there.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley was actively writing — or signing his name to letters pre-written by Drummond’s attorneys — to stop the superfund site and cleanup.

Former attorney general Luther Strange signed off on pre-written letters from his office to the EPA demanding that the site not be listed on the superfund registry and proclaiming that the state would provide no funds for cleanup.

Think about that.

That’s the guy whose main job is consumer protection.

You’re the consumer. We’re all the consumers.

So, why, why, why do you not care?

I’m begging someone to explain this to me. Why do you not care that you can’t eat fish out of the Tennessee River? That you can’t swim in Wheeler Lake? That you can’t drink the tap water in Courtland? That there will literally be NO oysters harvested from the Gulf this year? That poor people in one of the poorest areas of this state have dealt with constant illnesses? That your “salt life” and your “lake life” and your hunting and your fishing and your kids swimming and your just everyday existing is being jeopardized by sellouts?

Why don’t you care?

And I know you don’t care, because you just voted 60-40 to put the same people back in charge who put all of these people in charge of protecting our environment and natural resources.

And those same people you put back in office are taking your indifference seriously. When I sent a question to the governor’s office today asking for a comment on the sad state of Alabama environmental management programs, they didn’t even bother to respond.

Because Kay Ivey knows you don’t care.

There wasn’t a peep from any state lawmakers, because they also know you don’t care.

You know, I hear people ask all the time how Alabama — in the middle of the Bible Belt and with a church on every corner — could have a government that’s so corrupt, so filled with people willing to take bribes and sell out their constituents.

This is how: You stop paying attention.

 

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Elections

Opinion | The Alabama Democratic Party has no plan, no hope for the future

Josh Moon

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The Alabama Democratic Party is a dumpster fire.

This cannot be news to you by now.

Not after last Tuesday. Not after the last eight years.

Actually, that description might not be harsh enough. Try this: The Alabama Democratic Party is a flaming bag of poop way down at the bottom of a dumpster fire.

And before you go away thinking that to be too harsh, consider this: In the midst of a legit blue wave nationally — Democrats will gain around 40 House seats and receive around 8 million more votes when all of the counting is finished — Democrats in Alabama lost five House seats to an existing GOP supermajority.

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Alabama Dems’ best crop of candidates in YEARS received roughly the same percentage of the vote as its worst candidates ever.

Gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox traveled more than 30,000 miles around this state, spent years attending county commission meetings and getting to know citizens on both sides of the aisle. His likability numbers among likely voters, regardless of party, were fantastic.

He got roughly the same number of votes as Lt. Governor candidate Will Boyd, who you couldn’t pick out of a lineup with The Beatles.

Party chairwoman Nancy Worley and Democratic Conference head Joe Reed had quite the answer for this disaster of an election, saying, and I’m paraphrasing here: “eh, whatchagonnado?”

That was basically Worley and Reed’s response after they were heavily criticized by their own candidates last week. The criticisms, which came most loudly from Congressional candidate Mallory Hagan, centered on the Alabama Democratic Party’s lack of assistance with campaigns, lack of messaging, lack of financial support, lack of planning, lack of Get Out the Vote efforts, lack of organization and lack of visibility. To name a few.

Worley and Reed attempted to explain it all away by noting that Hagan and other candidates faced insurmountable odds, that the deck was stacked against them, that they would have been wasting resources to have even tried.

Don’t you dare buy it.

Because while it’s true that dropping a half-million the last month of the campaign wouldn’t have saved any candidate (except maybe Johnny Mack Morrow), that’s not when the money should have been spent. That’s not when the party office is most useful.

Winning elections takes effort. It takes planning. It takes information. It takes a long-term strategy.

Republicans didn’t take over the State House after 100-plus years of Democratic control because they prayed about it harder, even if that’s what they’d like you to believe.

They had a plan. They executed that plan.

They started down the ballot, winning races where a handful of votes swayed by the top of the ticket or a county initiative could land a few judgeships, maybe put a new House rep in place. Then they built on that.

They also did it through messaging.

I loathe Mike Hubbard, but that dude knew how to win elections. And he knew how to drive a point home. From the mid-2000s on, Democrats couldn’t go to the bathroom without Hubbard holding a press conference or issuing a press release claiming the Dems were in the bathroom plotting to take your guns or steal your money.

He went to major businesses around the state and started making deals for campaign contributions. And then he used those funds to push the party message even harder. Year after year, Hubbard and the rest of the ALGOP highlighted every bad thing Alabama Democrats did, and told people how Republicans would fix it and make their lives better.

Hubbard could do that, because as party chairman, he spoke for the ALGOP. And because he controlled the purse strings of the party, he could ensure that his message was the message resonating throughout the ALGOP.

ALGOP candidates were prepared with the best polling, the best opposition research, the best ads and the best volunteers. And they were all pushing just the right messages to voters.

They got to be so good at it that it didn’t matter if the candidate was essentially a door stopper. The ALGOP brass, led by Hubbard and a few others, had established a system so good and so efficient that they could get Shadrack McGill elected to the Alabama Senate.  

It didn’t even matter that the messages were mostly BS, and all Hubbard really wanted to do was take all of the money he could get his hands on.

The plan, the message and the execution were so good that it didn’t matter.

Alabama Democrats don’t have any of that.

Not the plan. Not the voice. Not the leadership.

And for some reason, the people in charge of the party seem to be OK with that. Because they just continue to not do anything at all to fix it.

The state deserves better.

 

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Opinion | It’s time to end Veteran’s Day

Josh Moon

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Forget Veteran’s Day.

We need a Veteran’s Month.

Every year, as November 11 rolls around, and the parades start slowly marching and the wreaths get laid on graves and everyone seeks out a veteran to thank for their service, I can’t help but think how completely disingenuous it all is.

Seriously, it’s noise.

Tomorrow, the day after Veteran’s Day, most of this country will go back to not giving a damn about veterans or their many, many problems.

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One day we’re tying ribbons on trees. The next we’re stepping over homeless vets on the sidewalk.

Maybe if we had a little more time each year — breast cancer, alcoholism and diabetes all get a month — maybe we could actually address a few problems, raise a little money, have enough time to get really, really ticked off about the way we — along with our federal government — consistently fail these men and women.

Because we do fail them.

And nowhere more so than with their health care.

We’ve got billions upon billions to waste on jets that the Air Force doesn’t even want, but we consistently cut and trim the health care services provided to the men and women who fought to protect us.

(And for just a moment, I want you to consider what “fought to protect us” actually means. Because it gets tossed around easily. But the reality is that many, many of these folks flew into a sandy/mountainous/jungle/Nazi-infested hellhole, tiptoed around roadside bombs, ducked enemy gunfire, and generally lived scared out of their ever-lovin’ minds every minute of every day for YEARS on end.)

And failing on veterans’ health care is not a partisan thing. Every recent administration and every recent Congress have done it.

President Obama included cuts to some benefits in Obamacare. Trump proposed cuts in his budget. George W. Bush made cuts, while two wars were still being fought. Clinton made cuts.

This functional indifference is a relatively new thing in this country. Following WWII, a country that had been scared to death gladly gave returning soldiers the rewards they deserved, primarily through the G.I. Bill.

Housing. Cheap loans. College tuition. Entire neighborhoods (unless you were black, of course). And no expenses were spared when it came to treating the returning wounded.

Much of that healthcare was provided by the newly consolidated Veterans Administration, or VA. And some of those hospitals would become world-class centers for care.

Today, many of them are world-class centers of embarrassment.

I know. I’ve written the stories. I’ve followed veterans and their family members around as they tried desperately to get the care promised. Or to simply get a doctor to show up for an appointment inside of a year.

I could tell you stories that would blow your mind.

Like the time a VA doctor and nurse left an 85-year-old Korean War vet lying on the floor, gasping for air, for more than 15 minutes. They saw him, left the room, and didn’t return.

Or the time a VA administrator took a patient to a crack house.

Or the many times VA workers spoke up about patients having to wait YEARS for an appointment, only to have top brass retaliate against them. As former soldiers died waiting.

That’s what we’ve done. Democrats, Republicans, Alabamians, liberals, conservatives, independents — all of us.

And for God’s sakes, don’t even get me started on mental health care, or the lack thereof. It’s a national crisis all by itself. And as last week’s shooting in California indicates, it’s not getting any better.

But you know what makes it all even worse?

The promise on the front end.

That slap-on-the-back promise made to the volunteer heroes heading off to war that if they’d go fight so we don’t have to, we would pick up the tabs, no matter the cost. You go fight our wars, keep us free and safe, and we’ll pay for your health care.

That was the deal we made.

They upheld their end. But like a bunch of used car salesmen, we’ve tried every shady trick in the book to weasel out of ours.

Instead, we give them one day each year, when we close up the banks and government offices, let kids out of school and walk around thanking vets for their service. And while that’s nice and all, it’s just not enough.

Maybe if we had a month, we could actually make good on a few of these promises.

 

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Opinion | With last minute move, Sessions cements his awful legacy

Josh Moon

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Here come the rewrites of Jeff Sessions’ pathetic history.

Already, the apologists and conservatives have begun to mold Sessions’ as a rule-of-law stalwart, a steadying force, a letter-of-the-law stickler for truth and justice.

He stood up to Trump.

He protected Robert Mueller.

He was brave and honorable and dignified, and most of all, he followed the letter of the law, because Jeff Sessions is a good person.

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Here’s the truth about Jeff Sessions: He’s a horrible person who has no qualms about laws being broken or U.S. citizens being abused and tortured and wrongly imprisoned, and innocent men being put to death, so long as the victims of those atrocities are not white.

The damage he did at the U.S. Department of Justice will take a generation to undo. And he made sure to do more on his way out the door.

In a sign of just how awful and vindictive and racist he is, in one of his last acts, as he was being dragged out the door towards his North Korea-like forced-applause send-off, Sessions signed a memorandum that, according to the New York Times, sharply limits the use of consent decrees to curb police misconduct.

Those decrees — reached after investigations uncover abuses in police departments and enforced by federal courts — have been used in recent times to address departments with long, sordid histories of abuses, particularly abuses of poor and minority citizens.

The decrees are essentially agreements between the Department of Justice and the departments in question, and they require the departments to make broad changes and show improvements.

For example, in Baltimore, following a number of well-documented scandals, including the death of Freddie Gray, and riots, the department asked the DOJ to investigate and recommend changes. That investigation turned up widespread abuses and unconstitutional behavior by officers, and the DOJ and department reached an agreement to make several changes. Among the changes were things like enhanced training in de-escalation techniques, training in community policing tactics and changes to rules about when and how officers could engage with citizens and suspects.

Let me stress again: These agreements were reached AFTER an investigation found and documented hundreds of instances of abuse. Including the wrongful death of suspects, the beating of innocent citizens, allegations of theft and multiple violations of constitutional rights of citizens.

But that didn’t matter to Sessions.

What did matter was that the majority of the victims were minorities.

No matter the situation, no matter the injustice, if it happens to a person of color, Sessions is incapable of empathy or of simply doing the right thing. And this is not new for him.

He acted similarly when he was Alabama’s AG. He did and said racist things while a federal prosecutor in Alabama. He was no better as this state’s senator. And he’s been an embarrassment as AG.

But some people now want to give him a pass because he did one right thing and recused from the Russia investigation.

That’s what he was supposed to do. He was the AG. He was supposed to follow the law.

Sessions doesn’t get rewarded for doing the absolute bare minimum. He doesn’t get to be recast as a hero because he wasn’t awful this one time.

And if you’re inclined to think otherwise, remember the story of Laquan McDonald.

Four years ago, police in Chicago shot and killed McDonald. At the time of the shooting, he was walking away from the cops. They shot him 16 times.

The official story from police, however, was that McDonald had “lunged” at them and they feared for their lives. They told the public he was shot once.

At least 20 cops in the department knew the story was a lie. Multiple cops in the department, including senior and high-ranking officers, signed off on it, repeated it and turned a blind eye.

The department turned away witnesses, tried to destroy video evidence, and lied repeatedly about the incident.

The cop who shot McDonald had a history of abuse dating back years. Abuses that had done little to stop his upward climb in the department.

The subsequent DOJ investigation found widespread abuses within the Chicago PD. It found multiple instances of officers violating the constitutional rights of citizens, sometimes through physical assaults, and facing little or no discipline for their actions. And it found a climate that would support an entire department lying to cover up a murder.

Jeff Sessions knew of these findings. And of ones in other departments. And still, on his way out the door, his last act was to pull the thin rug from under the feet of citizens abused and murdered by the police.

That’s who Jeff Sessions is.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

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Analysis | The myth of the “simple lottery bill”

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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