By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—A lottery bill sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) is drawing fire from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) and in a surprise press release from Attorney General Luther Strange.
Lobbyists for PCI and Tribal Vice Chair Robbie McGee are confidently predicting the demise of any lottery bill which would challenge their billion dollar monopoly over gaming in Alabama.
During the public Senate hearing on Tuesday, McGhee informed the committee that the Tribe would only allow a lottery that excluded any other entity from operating electronic gaming devices.
Shortly after the meeting concluded, Attorney General Luther Strange issued a statement on the two bills which will go before the full Senate on Wednesday. “As Attorney General, I have been approached by the Legislature to offer a legal interpretation of the impact of the various lottery proposals upon the state,” read the statement.
Strange said his legal team reviewed the two bills and found Gov. Robert Bentley’s constitutional amendment would, “create a limited lottery without the kinds of loopholes that will lead to casino gambling or protracted litigation.”
The Tribe said they have no problem with Bentley’s legislation that allows them to retain their monopoly, while granting the Governor authority to negotiate a State/Tribal compact that would expand tribal-casino offerings in the State.
Strange said his team found the bill sponsored by McClendon would “not only allow for a lottery, but will lead to casino gambling and protracted litigation,” something the bill’s author McClendon continues to deny vehemently. In fact, McClendon’s legislation specifically states, “Nothing in this bill is to be construed to allow casino gambling. Live human dealers prohibited.”
At a Tuesday press conference, McClendon stated, “The one thing his [Strange’s] opinion doesn’t do, is let the people vote.” He later added, “The last time a press release opinion was issued by the Attorney General the court found it had no meaning.”
McClendon referring to a 2009 Federal court’s finding, after Attorney General Troy King issued a press release on gambling. The court held, “The Attorney General is authorized by Alabama Code § 36–15–1(1) (1975) (2001 Replacement Vol.) to issue certain official written opinions, but the Alabama Code and Constitution are silent with respect to the authority of the Attorney General to issue an opinion in the form of a press release. . . As a consequence, the Attorney General’s press release does not merit further discussion.” (Department of Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars of U.S. v. Dorning, No. CIV. 07-S-2144-NE, 2009 WL 8741821, at *13 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 28, 2009))
McClendon sent an advance draft of the legislation to the Attorney General’s team and also sought input from other law enforcement.
McClendon confirmed that Strange, nor any of his staff, contacted him before Strange issued the press release.
McGhee and PCI lobbyists are pulling no punches to kill McClendon’s bill, according to Senate insiders.
Under the headline “Strange Bedfellows,” in April the Global Gaming Business Magazine reported, “Republican Attorney General Luther Strange, whose legal war against the band ended with a 2015 federal court ruling, is already being touted as the party’s gubernatorial candidate in 2018. Sources contend the Poarch Band has agreed to contribute millions of dollars to the effort. ‘It’s definitely a more amenable relationship,’” said Robbie McGee, Vice Chair of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI).
The same article claims the Tribe is reporting $600 million annually, even before adding revenue generated by its $246 million hotel and casino expansion at Wind Creek Wetumpka or the $65 million hotel and restaurant development at Wind Creek Montgomery casino.
The Tribe’s motivation to derail McClendon’s bill is evident, however, McClendon and others are questioning why Strange inserted himself so publicly in an issue that will ultimately be decided by the people of Alabama, if Strange and the Tribe let them?