By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
The Legislature’s special session is under way. OK, it’ll eventually it’ll be under way when lawmakers return from vacation on Aug. 3.
Lawmakers were called into special session last Monday. Then they adjourned until Aug. 3. Too many vacations, apparently, to do the state’s business. Too many other plans. Life goes on (for them, not for ordinary Alabamians, of course).
So lawmakers – those who showed up, anyway — met for a few minutes and adjourned until August. Don’t let the people’s business get in the way of the beach.
Gov. Robert Bentley didn’t include gambling legislation in his call. No worries. Any gambling legislation would require a three-fifths vote to pass a constitutional amendment. Voters have the last say. In a regular session, it would require the same. This way, Bentley’s hands are “clean.” Well, as clean as dirty hands can be.
That’s no deterrent to Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). He introduced SB8, a gambling bill, before going to the beach. Good for him. He knows when to hold them, when to fold them.
The special session is supposed to figure out a way to close a $200 million shortfall in the General Fund budget (SGF). Marsh’s gambling bills are scoffed at because they will do nothing to heal that gaping wound. And it won’t. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s years away. A gaming bill has to go before voters as a constitutional amendment. Details must be worked out. It’ll be 2017 at best, or beyond, before it matters.
So why bring it up in a special session? Well, why not? We’ve got to get the roulette ball spinning. (Caution, Dear Reader: More gambling clichés follow.) I won’t talk about whores, who have gotten more than a few “men of God into trouble.”
Gambling. Lots of Alabamians don’t like it. Religious people call it a sin. Well, Alabama already sanctions alcoholic beverages. A sin. We allow cigarette sales. A sin. Their heads must be exploding over marriage equality, now the law of the land. A sin to them. Sins are our commodity.
We’re pretty selective about our sins.
Gambling may be a sin for some; it’s entertainment (and the hope for a big payout) for others. Leave sin for the churches. What’s the joke? Take one Baptist fishing, and your beer will be gone. Take two, and your beer is safe. All bets are off.
I say you go, Del Marsh. Gambling surrounds us. Every state around Alabama has a lottery, except Mississippi, and Mississippi has casino gambling. Our residents go to Mississippi for gambling. They go to Tennessee and Georgia and Florida for lottery tickets. Those states are importing our money. Money that could go to education; lottery or gambling that could help our schools and, yes, our General Fund.
What’s wrong with us?
The current special session is to fix our ailing General Fund. I get that. Del Marsh’s gambling bills won’t help that. Not only does it take a super majority to pass his gambling bills, the voters of Alabama have to endorse them. (Pull that handle, see if you get 7’s.)
But you have to get the ball rolling, and hope it lands on the right number. That’s what Marsh is trying to do. No, it won’t help this term’s General Fund. But it might help the next.
I love Alabama’s independence. It’s “we’ll go our own way, so leave us alone.” But that attitude has left us in the dust of other states that are doing amazing works with their gambling and lotteries. Yes, there are problems with gambling. (People lose.)
People become addicted. Families are ruined. But families are ruined by our poverty. They’re ruined because Gov. Robert Bentley refuses to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. They’re ruined because we ignore their plight. Families are ruined plenty because we don’t allow real gambling in Alabama. (Los Vegas is not Lost Vegas.)
We don’t need electronic bingo. We need full casino gambling. We need a lottery, like Tennessee and Georgia and Florida have. (I don’t go to Florida or Georgia without buying scratch-offs and lottery tickets, hoping for the big win. Still, I haven’t found one, but I still spend the money.)
We need to coordinate with the Native American casinos that already exist in Alabama, and get a share of their take. And, as of now, they give no share to the state. We are not alone. We’re just alone.
I’m no fan of gambling. But I know that it will give us revenue we need, and that thousands of our residents are already participating, in Florida, in Georgia, in Tennessee, in Mississippi. (See me, above.)
What’s wrong with us? Let’s join the bandwagon. Let’s get our share. (Let’s roll the dice.)
Del Marsh’s gambling bills have little chance in this special session. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard has already said they are a waste of time. Frankly, Mike Hubbard is a waste of time. When does he go on trial, anyway? (Know when to fold them.)
And fixing our budget, gambling doesn’t have a role this year. But it can, later on, and we’ve got to get that roulette ball rolling. Let’s hope for black. (Or red. Actually, I know nothing about roulette.)
So, let’s do it. Let’s roll the dice. It won’t come up snake-eyes. And even if it does, it’ll be our snake-eyes. Not somebody’s else’s.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes this column every Wednesday for Alabama Political Reporter.
Email: [email protected].