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Lottery Wars Begin

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Later today, Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) will file two lottery bills: one coming from Governor Robert Bentley; the other, crafted by McClendon, with input from his Senate colleagues. Both bills will attract friends and enemies. As the Art of War instructs, “Know your enemy.”

The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu teaches “If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win numerous (literally, “a hundred”) of battles without jeopardy.”

Bentley’s bill, which we have deemed the “ER-lottery” doesn’t even provide triage for Medicaid funding, which the Governor’s claims is the reason for the Special Session. Bentley is expected to ask for BP dollars to cover Medicaid’s short-fall. A battle over BP funds is a strategy that will more than likely end with death bells ringing for any lottery.

McClendon’s bill, dubbed “McLottery,” addresses Medicaid’s needs as well as providing $100 million annually for education. The McLottery achieves all this by allowing lottery terminals at the four existing para-mutuel tracks.

The ER-lottery’s greatest enemy may be the Governor’s ego. In contrast, McLottery’s biggest threat will come from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) who have vowed to kill any measure that includes lottery terminals. Their reasoning is simple; they have a billion dollar monopoly over gaming in the State and will give no quarter to those who would take even a crumb from their table. Recently, the Tribe and their lobbyists began visiting lawmakers, bringing promises of carrots or sticks, whichever is needed.

Bentley’s opposition to lottery terminals is believed to lead back to his alleged lover and former senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

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Another player fiercely opposing any kind lottery is Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP). The Christian-centric group, on July 28, issued an immediate call to arms. According to the group’s website, “The Reverend Joe Godfrey, executive director of ALCAP, will lead churches in the fight against a State lottery in Alabama.”

There is a general fear that ALCAP will serve as an unwitting pawn, as was the case in Citizens for Better Alabama (CBA), in its opposition to the gambling initiative, Sweet Home Alabama.

There is a growing concern that the Tribe will follow the scheme devised by former Gov. Bob Riley, and convicted felon former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, when they funneled money into CBA to fight gaming for their own greedy ends.

According to the IRS Form 990 tax return filed by CBA for 2010, the tax-exempt 501c(4) group took in a little over $1 million in donations. Of that amount, $413,750 came from Hubbard’s personal leadership PAC – the Auburn-based Network PAC – between February and October 2010.

Riley’s Gov PAC gave $292,000, and $314,500 was contributed directly to CBA through individuals at Riley’s request.

Over the weekend, it was rumored that Riley might have a poison pill for McClendon’s McLottery in the form of an amendment that would abolish the elected State School Board for an appointed one. Given the machinations surrounding the election of a new State Superintendent, nothing would be unbelievable.

Members of the Forestry Association, as well as ALFA, have signaled opposition to a lottery, especially one with lottery terminals, because it would take money out of the State economy.

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According to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Office, Bentley’s plan would generate around $225 million annually, with proceeds going to the terribly anemic State General Fund Budget, ostensibly to pay for the burgeoning State Medicaid program.

However, Legislative Fiscal Office projects that McClendon’s lottery plan will raise $427 million annually for the State, solve Medicaid’s $85 million budget shortfall for 2017, and create $100 million annually in additional funds for Alabama’s schools. Theses funds will stimulate the economy, not depress it.

It is unclear who will ultimately prevail.

The Art of War state’s “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be put at risk even if you have a hundred battles.

“If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.

“If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

Let the battle began.

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Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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