By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
When Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge William Shashy ruled in favor of VictoryLand, many thought that would be the end of the long, costly war over electronic bingo. But, it appears, that will not be the case.
Attorney General Luther Strange has signaled his office, will appeal Judge Shashy’s ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court, where the lower court’s order will almost assuredly be reversed.
It is past time for the State Legislature to end the question of legal or illegal gaming once and for all. This battle over bingo has cost the taxpayers millions over an issue that could easily and quickly be resolved by a vote of the people.
To continue to spend manpower and treasure over what constitutes a game of bingo, is a futile endeavor, given that a simple answer is in sight.
(It is important to note that Macon County, where VictoryLand is located, passed Constitutional Amendment 744 that authorized electronic bingo as stated in Judge Shashy’s ruling.)
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) continue to offer bingo-style gambling in luxurious facilities all across the State, and as the 11th Circuit Court has ruled, they can operate with impunity from State law. Four other casinos with less glamor continue to operate, unmolested by the State, however, the State will spend more money and more time in a fight, presumebly to the death, with Milton McGregor.
For those who argue over the a social cost of gambling, I would agree, but we are already paying that cost. There is gambling in our State, and it is not going away. The Federal government has assured that with the PCI ruling.
Personally, I have found the tribal leaders of PCI to be good and honest people, who obey the law, help others, and only want to be left alone to make a living. However, there is an unavoidable intersection between big money and power politics. The tribe has already shown itself willing to spend millions to elect politicians who will do their bidding. That is their legal right under State and Federal law.
In the last election cycle the tribe gave over $1.5 million to unseat General Strange. It may not be illegal, but it was truly unethical, given that it was all about retribution, and not good government. But, that’s politics, as played in a State without campaign finance limits.
Of course they have proven to be ecumenical in their giving, even secretly funneling hundreds of thousands to a Republican candidate though a scheme devised by then ALGOP head, Mike Hubbard. Hubbard, now as Speaker of the House, stands charged with 23 felony crimes, continues to strengthen his relationship with the PCI through his close connection with lobbyist Phillip and Allison Kinney. Even during the last Special Session tribal council members and their lobbyist were reportedly meeting what Hubbard in his fifth floor office. With not a single piece of gambling legislation before the House why would Hubbard be meeting with the PCI?
This again appears to be the dark cross roads where money and power meet.
In 2009, McGregor’s VictoryLand became the target of then Gov. Bob Riley. The reason Riley zeroed in on McGregor continues to be under debate. The Montgomery Advertiser’s Josh Moon has done what to date stands as the definitive work on the subject.
What is certain is by shuttering VictoryLand, the Poarch Creek have become the de facto lords of gambling in Alabama. And like McGregor before them, they have learned that there is a toll road in Montgomery through which they must pass to expand their wealth and power.
The tribe has built an empire, the likes of which others have only imagined. There is no counter weight to their economic engine, which is driven by what Strange has dubbed, “an illegal enterprise.”
But neither he, nor anyone else can touch them, and as long as there in no competition, they will grow, and it will be the leaders of some 3,000 tribal members in south Alabama who will elect the next Attorney General and Governor.
Hubbard has publicly stated that he favors giving the PCI control over gambling in the State because he trust them. Perhaps, Hubbard has forgotten that power corrupts. Of course, an honest look into his bathroom mirror and Hubbard would see the truth of that statement staring back at him. But it is doubtful that Hubbard has reflective moments, he, like Narcissus, would only see his own lovely, visage.
The Attorney General’s Office has said it doesn’t cost much to appeal Judge Shashy’s ruling, only attorneys and paper. This statement is as ignorant of cost management as it is offensive to the taxpayers of our State.
It is now time for the legislature to act, not the courts. Gov. Robert Bentley and AG Strange have said they wanted the court to rule. It did, but it appears that is not enough.
Republicans always decry activist judges. Now is the time to allow the judges to step aside and the legislature to step up and let the people vote.