By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—In full page newspaper advertisements across the State, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) have said they have a “solution that is right for Alabama,” to solve our current fiscal shortfall. It is believed that over the next 45 days, the Tribe will spend around $4.5 million to drive that message home to every Alabamian.
The Tribe says they, “can solve the State’s current budget deficit crisis with a $250 million advance.”
Nowhere in the statement, signed by Tribal Chair Stephanie Bryan, are the terms of the $250 million advance explained.
What is an “advance” and what does the Tribe expect in return for such a large sum of money? Again, Bryan doesn’t offer any details, only advice:
“We need to come together as citizens of this great State to solve our immediate budget crisis and make sure we never find ourselves in these desperate straits again.”
Bryan’s words appear altruistic, generous, and inclusive, and it is believed that the PCI will spend an average of one hundred thousand dollars a day to make them heard. That is more than twice the average family income in Alabama.
Just a few months ago, Tribal Vice Chair, Robbie McGee, addressed a part of what the tribe wants in return for its $250 million advance. McGee stated that the Tribe would loan the State up to $250 million in exchange for a compact that would grant them exclusive rights to gambling throughout Alabama.
Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), who is awaiting trial on 23 felony counts of public corruption, has thrown his support behind giving the PCI a monopoly over gambling in the State.
An alternative plan has been offered by Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh (R-Anniston), which would give the Tribe a compact, but would also allow for four other non-indian casinos to operate. Unlike the plan supported by Hubbard, the one favored by Marsh would leave the entire question up to the voters. The Marsh plan requires a vote of the people on a constitutional amendment. The one favored by Hubbard is left to the Governor and the Legislature.
Would the PCI offer to advance the State $250 million fit into the Marsh plan?
Bryan has failed on numerous occasions to return phone calls or requests for meetings.
Currently, the PCI operate Class II gaming in Alabama. Class II gambling is primarily the game of chance, commonly referred to as, Bingo. At PCI casinos, Bingo is played on electronic machines.
According to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Tribes retain their authority to conduct, license, and regulate class II gaming, so long as the state in which the Tribe is located permits such gaming for any purpose.
Attorney General Luther Strange has said the Tribe is operating illegally because electronic Bingo is not permitted under a ruling by the State Supreme Court. Based on this ruling, Strange, as well as former Gov. Bob Riley, have closed non-Indian facilities across the State, most notably, the ones operated by Milton McGregor.
A lawsuit is pending in Federal Court over Strange’s authority to address, what he claims is, illegal gambling on tribal lands.
There have also been threats to the Tribe’s operation over the US Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar. In its ruling, the Court held that that the term, “now under Federal jurisdiction,” referred only to tribes that were federally recognized when the Indian Reorganization Act became law, and the Federal government could not take land into trust from tribes that were recognized after 1934.
PCI lands were not taken into trust until 1984. Even though the Tribe has historical roots that extend long before 1934, legal arguments have been made that the PCI are operating outside the Federal law, according to the ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar. This is the opinion of our current State Attorney General Strange.
Side note: The PCI donated $1.5 million to Strange’s opponent in the 2014 Attorney General’s election.
Since the 2009 ruling, the PCI and other tribes, whose land was taken into trust after 1934, have worked to have Congress pass a “Carcieri fix,” but, it has not gained much traction. So, individual tribes have sought to pass it on a local level.
The PCI has worked with the State’s congressional delegation for a local “Carcieri fix,” but that too fell apart after one US Representative pulled their support.
There are those in the legal community who believe that a compact with the State would alleviate the need for a local “Carcieri fix,” and it would stop any further action from the State’s Attorney General. This would be the outcome under either the plan offered by Hubbard or Marsh.
In the newspaper ad, Bryan wrote,
“Going forward, we are prepared to share a portion of our business revenues with the State—funds that will ensure Alabama’s long-term financial security.”