By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
I have always believed that gambling is an issue that should be decided by the voters. And I will never understand why, in the middle of the biggest economic recession our country has seen since the Great Depression, our state leaders chose to put hundreds of people out of work and shut down legally operating casinos throughout the state.
The legal battles that followed have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, and cost the state millions more in lost revenue that would have been coming in from the taxes paid by these casinos and their employees.
The fight over gambling in Alabama will not end any time soon. But when VictoryLand Casino reopened last week, it was a victory for Alabama, our economy and our cash-strapped government.
Even before the doors were opened hundreds of jobs were filled. In the months to come, many more jobs will be created, and that means more economic growth and more tax revenue for the state.
Of course, not everyone is happy to see VictoryLand reopen. The anti-gambling establishment fought hard to shut down VictoryLand, and just successfully killed the lottery bill during the special legislative session.
But VictoryLand’s reopening isn’t really about gambling. It really isn’t even about the economy. It’s about democracy; it’s about government listening to the will of the people.
On Gov. Bentley’s first full day in office back in 2011, he made the decision to rescind the executive order that created the gambling task force that had raided VictoryLand and other casinos. Then, last year, Gov. Bentley issued a new executive order declaring that sheriffs and district attorneys would be responsible for enforcing criminal law in their counties.
In 2003, voters statewide overwhelmingly gave approval to a constitutional amendment that allowed bingo in any form, including electronic. It is this amendment that the sheriff and local leaders are citing that allowed VictoryLand to reopen last week.
The people of Alabama spoke. The people of Alabama passed the amendment, and the governor is correct to leave the enforcement of local gambling laws to the local elected leaders and local law enforcement.
The gambling debate is far from over, and I certainly respect the concerns of those who oppose gambling. But like it or not, gambling is here to stay in Alabama. And when places like VictoryLand and the Wind Creek casinos are successful, the state of Alabama is better off.
How many people are employed by the Wind Creek casinos and, now, by VictoryLand? Those are jobs that support families; jobs that pay taxes; jobs that pay people who then shop at other local stores and restaurants, making those businesses money.
At a time in our state when the Legislature is struggling to pay even the minimum amount necessary to fund Medicaid, prisons and other essential government services, we need every business in Alabama to be successful. We need employers to hire people. It doesn’t make sense that our government would roll over the will of the people in order to shut down legally operating businesses and put people out of a job.
The state government has already wasted too much time and taxpayer dollars trying to shut down VictoryLand and other gaming facilities. Instead of trying to shut businesses down, we should recognize that places like VictoryLand and Wind Creek are hiring Alabama citizens and contributing to our economy. Most of all, we should listen to the will of the people and accept that democracy has spoken.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.