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Opinion | Could a lottery, gambling cause Alabama to lose moral high ground?

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The gambling debate in Alabama is tired.

Because it’s just too old. It’s like arguing against the smart phone.

I suppose the debate was a meaningful one back pre-1980 or so, long before church bingo halls and greyhound racing invaded the state. And before Mississippi OK’d Indian casinos and Georgia, Florida and Tennessee approved lotteries. And before the Poarch Band of Creek Indians opened up three casinos in Alabama.

Maybe you had an argument back then. Maybe there was still hope when you had to hop a flight to Vegas to play blackjack or lay down a few hundred on the weekend ballgames with the local bookie.

But now, we’re essentially cutting off our entire face to spite our face.

And we’re going to do it again.

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There are two gambling bills currently in the Legislature — both sponsored by Sen. Paul Sanford. One would establish a lottery and allow Alabama to get in on the multi-state Powerball games. The other would allow daily fantasy sports.

But you know what’s coming. The carnival barkers fronting the holy rollers and Bible thumper groups are going to go door to door in the State House, telling lawmakers that their constituents are outraged over this.

Of course, they’re not, since it was blue-haired church ladies who started this bingo gambling stuff in the first place, and there are more than a few Bibles packed in the luggage on those Alabama buses that roll into Biloxi and Tunica every weekend.

But it doesn’t matter. The lawmakers will cower, the bills will die and we’ll keep pretending that we don’t know the truth about gambling.

Billions upon billions of dollars from this state’s citizens have been spent on gambling over the last few years. In the last two decades, we — Alabama citizens — have sent an entire generation of Georgia kids to college for FREE.

We’ve kept Florida’s occupational and lodging taxes low and eliminated their taxes on gas and food.

We’ve funded a massive expansion of Mississippi’s gulf coast, at the expense of our own. And then, after Katrina rolled through, it was gambling money — a good chunk of which came from all those busloads of Alabama grandmas pumping quarters into those slot machines — that rebuilt Mississippi’s coast.

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In Tennessee, we have helped to fund after-school programs throughout the state, sent thousands of kids to college for free and made all of the state’s two-year institutions FREE for in-state students.

On the Poarch Creek reservation, life is also better than anywhere else in Alabama. While that makes me smile considering the irony and history, it also means that tribe members receive quite a few benefits from their gambling haul: like free health care, free assisted living and yearly birthday bonuses for all members that tally into the thousands of dollars for each person. And yes, there are college scholarships for the kids.

It’s reached the point of absurdity now.

Because tucked away in the gambling legislation that brought gaming to our surrounding states is a common clause that sets aside money for addiction services and the other gambling-related issues that arise when the games are legalized. Because there are problems, just as there are with alcohol sales and prescription drugs.

Because we don’t have the gambling revenue guess what else we don’t have.

Honestly, it’s so, so dumb.

It’s so bad that we’ve also made daily fantasy sports games illegal, which makes zero sense. To play these games, you have to pick a roster of players and you can only win if your players perform well.

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The games require an incredible amount of knowledge and planning to be successful. Far more so than, say, picking dogs at a dog track or betting on horses — both of which are legal in Alabama because they have been determined to be games of skill.

But what makes banning them, instead of legalizing and taxing them, even dumber is that it takes all of about three minutes to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection, which allows a player to mask his or her location and avoid the restrictions on the games. The VPNs are free and easy to use.

Again, we’re losing millions of dollars. For no reason whatsoever.

Oh, wait, I forgot. We do still have the moral high ground on our heathen border states.

Yeah, sure, our governor was run out of office after an alleged affair and breaking the law, our House Speaker was found guilty of 12 felonies, our Majority Leader recently pleaded guilty to breaking ethics laws and we came within a hair of electing a man to the U.S. Senate who was credibly accused of assaulting underage women in addition to being removed from the state supreme court twice.

But no legalized gambling statewide, so, like a Diet Coke with a McDonald’s order, all is good.


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Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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