By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, April 14, the Senate rejected a local constitutional amendment that would give Greene Track exclusive gaming rights in Greene County and would have allowed the dog track to have the same electronic bingo games that the Poarch Creek Band of Indians (PCI) have at their three facilities.
The Greene county gambling bill, SB340, was sponsored by State Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro).
State Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma) said, “I am deeply concerned about this bill and I am deeply concerned by the whole process.” Sanders said that every other local bill provided for charities to hold bingos. This bill is a different animal because it is for a private entity and gives a privilege and a right to one entity and puts it in the Constitution of Alabama. I don’t know of anything in the modern day like this. This bill puts three other charities out of business. And the only one that will be there will be this one entity. “I know that is unconstitutional. Alabama is going to end up spending money to defend this bill.”
Sen. Sanders said that he had supported a bill that reached to Birmingham, to Lowndes County, to Anniston and Calhoun County, to Macon County. It would reach all over this State. We should not have any more local legislation dealing with gaming. What we really need is to address gambling head on. We could raise maybe a $billion by having several locations and bidding those out. We would have money for Medicaid. Right now Medicaid is $85 million short. With legalized gaming we could expand Medicaid. We would have enough money for the RCOs (regional care organizations). The whole State of Alabama is affected.
Sanders said that the person who runs Greene Track was mean spirited and arrogant to think that he, Sen. Sanders, had to support this bill and said that he had been threatened by the dog track operator. It would be a mistake to give a monopoly to this person. “He acted like I had to vote for this….We can not empower a situation where people think they are entitled to my vote.” Sanders said that the Greene Track operator had had one sheriff that he could work with. The people nominated another sheriff. “That nomination was set aside by hook and by crook. The people of Greene County were so incensed that they elected the set aside Sheriff by a write in. All of us know how difficult it is to be elected. It is extremely difficult to be elected by a write in. That is all about bingo. I said I wasn’t going to vote for it so I came under attack. This bill gives a gambling license to one entity and puts it in the constitution. This has never been done in Alabama. The reason bingo is not treated like other bills is because charities were involved. Granted the situation was corrupted and the people operating them were taking 99% of the money, but there was an intent for bingo to benefit charities when those bills were passed.”
Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) said that he was the Chairman of the local legislation committee. He told Sanders that he realized that HB340 had been mistakenly assigned to his committee; but knew of no other way to get the bill out of his committee other than to give it a favorable report. “I may have made an error. Maybe I should have recommitted the legislation.”
The bill’s sponsor Sen. Singleton said, “Things that have been said here that are false but I don’t want to go into that here. This bill is about Greene County and Greene County only. I am the Senator for Greene County I feel that I know what is best for the people of Greene County. If the people of Greene County don’t want this they can vote it down. Green Track is my Mercedes.”
Sen. Singleton said that the Greene County School system will get a $million in additional un-earmarked dollars a year if this passes. No one individual owns Greene Track. Greene Track employees own Greene Track. “If the people of Greene County don’t want this they can vote this down.”
Singleton said, “I have never seen so much interest in a local bill. We have a rule called local courtesy. “Whatever you pass in your local community Bobby Singleton does not say anything about it. I need 21 of you to vote for this local Constitutional amendment. This is my economic development. The Industrial board will get money. We don’t want to depend on gaming trying to lure other jobs to Greene County. We have a fish plant. Gaming will not do it all by itself. We passed a tax to build a new school. Before that we had not built a new school since the 1950s.”
Singleton said that this bill will not benefit him personally. “I don’t own any land in Greene County. The Native Americans pay no taxes. They have a monopoly and want to share nothing with nobody.”
Singleton acknowledged that his bill would close down four existing charity bingos. One of those charity owners has a felony conviction. Another is run by the Sheriff. “The sheriff’s job is to be the sheriff. We have people getting run over in the streets by people drag racing. He can go back to law enforcement instead of sitting in the bingo hall all day.”
Singleton said that, “Greene Track was the first gambling allowed in the State of Alabama. At that time we were 66 of 67 counties in poverty. Thanks to Greene Track we were 37 before the government came in and shut things down. Greene Track was employing over 500 people. There are only 9,900 people in Greene County. The lowest paying job there was $12.50 an hour. These were life changing jobs. I am trying to help people go back to work so that their children can be proud of them. The school system doesn’t have that month of reserves. This would give them that reserve. People are spending millions and millions of dollars (on lobbyists) to try to stop a small rural community.”
Sen. Singleton said, “Until the Governor can send me my Mercedes (factory) this is all we have and this is what we want to get passed. I need 21 votes.”
The vote was 17 to 6. Not the 21 yes votes needed to pass the constitutional amendment. SB340 was defeated.