There is no such thing as a “simple lottery bill” in the state of Alabama.
You hear this phrase a lot from state lawmakers, as they field the inevitable questions about gambling that pop up prior to each legislative session or prior to elections in which one candidate — usually a Democrat — has proposed a lottery to raise state revenues.
And right on cue, with Walt Maddox running for governor and the state facing huge budget deficits in 2019, the lottery question has surfaced again.
And again, state lawmakers have proclaimed that the only thing that will pass in this state is a “simple lottery bill.”
What they mean by that, of course, is they want to pass a bill that approves only a statewide lottery, with no provisions for legalizing other gambling, such as electronic bingo, video lottery terminals or table games. (Also, keep in mind that any legislation passed by lawmakers would have to go on a ballot and be approved by state voters, since the state’s constitution outlaws gambling.)
The problem with that is it ignores the very complicated, very nuanced world of Native American gaming law.
To put it simply: Because Alabama has a federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, that’s already operating casinos, the implementation of a lottery would almost assure the Poarch Creeks the right to operate casinos with a higher class of casino games, and would likely lead to the tribe operating full-fledged casinos, complete with table games and real slot machines.
While that would be great for the Poarch Creeks, it wouldn’t be the best path for the state, at least from a revenue standpoint. Non-Indian casinos can be taxed at much higher rates and stand to bring the state much higher revenue numbers.
To understand why a “simple lottery bill” is a misnomer, you have to read about three dozen federal court and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and a number of news stories on the fights between states and tribes. It also wouldn’t hurt to talk to a few attorneys, and read a few legal opinions, from people who have no dog in Alabama’s fight.
Luckily for you, I’ve done all of that. And while I’m no attorney, and don’t even play one on TV, I am pretty good at repeating stuff I’ve been told and acting like I know what I’m talking about.
So, here’s the condensed version of all that.
IGRA breaks gambling into three categories: Class I, which is social games such as raffles and junk; Class II, which is bingo and lotto; and Class III, which is everything else, including table games, slot machines and — here’s the biggie — lotteries.
Under IGRA, in order for a tribe to be able to offer any sort of Class II or Class III gaming, games that fall into those categories must be legal elsewhere in the state where the tribe’s lands are located. (This is why the Poarch Creeks can offer electronic bingo, a Class II game, in Alabama — because bingo is legally played in Alabama elsewhere, and the federal government, unlike Alabama’s courts, determined that the game can be played electronically.)
Also, IGRA requires that states and tribes enter into compacts before the tribes can offer the games that fall in Class III. That requirement provides some protections to states, ensuring that it can have some say-so over the more serious casino-style gaming.
But there’s also a protection built in for tribes, and this is where the lottery component opens things up for the Poarch Creeks.
IGRA, enforced by the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior, requires states that offer Class III gaming to negotiate in good faith with tribes seeking a compact. Until a recent federal court ruling in Florida, tribes could compel states to negotiate through the use of the courts, but a sovereign immunity ruling in Florida’s favor upended that avenue.
Instead, now, if a state refuses to negotiate with a tribe, the Secretary of the Interior can simply implement a gaming plan on his own for that tribe, legalizing Class III gaming with or without the state’s consent.
So, what does all of that mean for Alabama?
It means that approving a lottery for the state opens up other possibilities for the Poarch Creeks, and could result in the state being either forced into a compact or forced to allow some form of Class III gaming.
I say “some form,” because generally speaking, the NIGC will not allow the tribes to offer games that are not offered in the state. But as we’ve seen with the electronic bingo v. traditional bingo argument, there is some wiggle room in the definitions.
Most likely what we could bank on is this: If a lottery passes, the Poarch Creeks would then have the right to operate their own lottery. Just like with the liberal definitions of “bingo,” the NIGC has also been flexible on lottery games, such as video lottery terminals (VLTs), allowing them in most cases. And the courts, with a few nuanced exceptions, have mostly backed the tribes in any disputes.
VLTs operate similar to slots and mimic the paper scratch-offs. They’re faster than electronic bingo games, and due to their popularity in other states, the VLT games and machine offerings are much more advanced and nuanced.
That would, of course, automatically give the Poarch Creeks a leg up over non-Indian casinos. As if the tribe needs another one at this point.
But it would also severely limit the state’s ability to earn revenue from both its lottery and the revenue available from gaming.
And it’s why there is no such thing as a “simple lottery bill” in Alabama.
Opinion | Want to reduce abortions? Vote for Democrats
As Republicans scream about abortions, the thing they always fail to mention is that an abortion ban in America will not reduce the number of abortions performed. But better health care can.
With polls last week showing the race between incumbent Sen. Doug Jones and Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville tightening a bit, and with continued long lines outside voting precincts in heavily Democratic areas, the Alabama GOP, and its paid mouthpieces, have turned to their favorite talking point: abortion.
By the end of last week, to hear them tell it, Jones would be sacrificing live babies on Nancy Pelosi’s gold-plated kitchen table as Chuck Schumer looked on and AOC sharpened the knives.
In ad after ad and planted story after planted story and social media post after social media post, they went on and on about “live birth abortions” — as if there is such a thing — and accusations that Jones supports abortion “up to the point of birth.”
It’s so silly and childish that it’s hard to envision such gibberish actually affecting the way any sane adult would vote, but then, that’s the beauty of the abortion issue — sanity, reason and facts took a hike a long, long time ago, and we’re now left with only raw emotion.
The fact is the Alabama GOP — and the national Republican Party — has been responsible for millions more abortions and baby deaths than any Democrat or any Democratic policy.
Jones, and his policies, would prevent hundreds of thousands of abortions in this state going forward.
No, that’s not an opinion. That’s a fact that I can support with actual data.
As Republicans scream about abortions, the thing they always fail to mention is that an abortion ban in America will not reduce the number of abortions performed. This has been proven over and over again in country after country, where full bans have been implemented.
Instead, when bans are implemented, desperate women turn to unsafe, back-alley abortions that often lead to the deaths of both mother and fetus. Findings from a 30-year Guttmacher Institute, released in July, show that abortion rates remain steady in countries where the procedures are legal and in the countries where they are banned or partially banned.
In fact, the rates were often higher in countries with a ban in place.
But you know where the rates aren’t steady? America.
You know why? Obamacare.
Over the last 10 years, abortion rates have dipped to historic lows. That decline can be traced directly to Obamacare, which allows women to receive covered contraceptive care, which prevent pregnancies in the first place.
A study from the University of Michigan in 2017 found that abortion rates dropped more than 10 percent among college-aged women following the passage of Obamacare, which, in addition to the contraceptive coverage, also allowed young people to remain on their parents’ health insurance longer.
Overall, across the county, abortions decreased by more than 200,000 between 2010 and 2017. The abortion rate plummeted to its lowest level since the procedure was legalized in 1973.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. They decreased across the country except for four states — North Carolina, Mississippi, Wyoming and Georgia. Care to guess what happened in those states? They each implemented some level of an abortion ban during that time period.
But Obamacare isn’t the only Democratic policy that has reduced abortions.
In Colorado, where state officials began a push to market free contraceptive care and also allowed pharmacists in the state to write prescriptions for birth control, abortion rate declines have exceeded the national average.
Teen birth rates in Colorado are down a whopping 59 percent over the last 10 years. And teen abortion rates are down more than 60 percent in that span.
Know where else they’re not down? Alabama.
We’re top five in teen pregnancy and teen birth rates in the country. We’re also top five for births by unwed mothers, low birth weights, pre-term births and infant mortality.
Yet, these same Republicans who line up to talk about the sanctity of life have resisted both Obamacare implementation — refusing to participate in the marketplace and make care more affordable for citizens — and Medicaid expansion, which would provide coverage for about 200,000 poor, working Alabamians.
They have resisted better sex education programs in schools — we still require abstinence-only programs — and refused to fund programs that would make contraceptives free and widely available.
These programs and policies have proven to reduce abortions and save lives. They’ve proven to provide women with decent care and support, instead of shame and ridicule.
These are the policies that Jones and Alabama Democrats support. They’re the policies that the GOP have tried repeatedly to kill or block. Which means, if it’s the reduction of abortions and saving human lives that you care about, there’s one obvious choice to make. Vote for Democrats.
Opinion | Voter suppression is the only hope for Republicans
Their tactic today is the same tactic of yesterday. Fight democracy.
The writing is on the wall for Republicans, and it has been for some time now. Across the nation, year after year, they see the numbers steadily move away from them. They already represent tens of millions fewer Americans in Congress, and if recent polling is even close to accurate, they are on the verge of a bloodbath in less than two weeks that could tip the power to Democrats for generations to come.
Facing such a bleak reality, it might be reasonable forjm to the party platform, discouraging the archaic fights over thinly-veiled racism and bigotry. To stop the never-ending coddling of racists and America’s worst humans.
But no, that is not their tactic. Their tactic today is the same tactic of yesterday.
Because the enemy that Republicans can beat is not the better ideas, better leadership, better governance or better humanity of today’s Democratic Party, it is access to the voting booth.
And they are fighting like hell.
Gone are the slick talking points and the insistence that every shady hurdle placed between a voter and a ballot is a matter of fraud prevention. Now, they’re not even hiding what they’re doing, nor offering half-baked excuses for doing it.
Whether it be limiting polling locations or providing fewer voting machines to predominantly minority neighborhoods or removing polling locations from college campuses or allowing for only one ballot drop-off location or faking drop-off locations, there is an all-out, last-ditch, shameless, desperate attempt to stave off the coming defeat by Republicans.
And there is no bottom to what they will pull.
As is usually the case, it was in Alabama where they tested just how low they’re willing to sink. In Alabama, in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed nearly 220,000 Americans and nearly 3,000 Alabamians, they fought everything.
Even when they knew that doing so would likely — very likely — cost voters their lives.
And they had a Republican-packed U.S. Supreme Court to go along with them.
On Wednesday evening, that court ruled, 5-3, that Alabama officials could ban curbside voting, even though there’s no law in the state preventing it and several counties have used it successfully in the past.
Curbside voting is utilized to aid people with disabilities. In the time of COVID, it was going to be used by several counties in Alabama to make it easier for the most at-risk individuals to safely cast a ballot. They would pull up to the curb, sign the poll book without exiting their car, fill out a ballot, hand it to an official poll worker who feeds it into a voting machine, and, tah-dah, a safe vote has been cast.
A number of at-risk Alabamians filed a lawsuit against the state saying the ban on curbside voting, coupled with the requirements for absentee voting in Alabama — which state officials also went to court to keep in place — would very much force them to risk their lives in order to cast a ballot.
It will come as no surprise to you that the majority of those who planned to utilize curbside voting, it was projected, were Black Alabamians. COVID-19 has proven to be particularly lethal for Blacks, and the counties of Jefferson and Montgomery — both with high minority populations — had already planned to implement curbside voting.
Secretary of State John Merrill and Attorney General Steve Marshall smelled something fishy, which is oddly common among white Republicans in Alabama whenever large numbers of Black people are planning to vote.
But don’t worry, if you were expecting their reasoning for opposing curbside voting to be either absurd or callous.
In a brief filed in the case, Merrill argued that “some level of risk is inherent in life and in voting.” Merrill also went into a lengthy speculation on how curbside voting could possibly be conducted safely and securely in these counties.
Again, curbside voting has been done in Alabama numerous times. And figuring out the logistics certainly would have taken less time and money than fighting this ridiculous case all the way to the Supreme Court.
But, again, fairness, security and safety weren’t the objective.
Because right now, that’s the only hope Republicans have left.
Opinion | Electing Tuberville could cost Alabama billions
If your conscience or decency isn’t enough, vote your wallets.
Money matters in Alabama. Oh, I know that we’re not supposed to say that out loud. That we’re supposed to promote our image of southern grace and hospitality, of churchiness and care, of rich people never getting into heaven.
But the truth is greed is our biggest character flaw in this state.
Every problem we have can be traced back to our unending thirst for dollars. Our ancestors didn’t keep slaves because they hated black people. They did it because they loved money and the difference in skin color gave them an excuse — a really, really stupid excuse — to mistreat other humans to take advantage of the free labor.
Our rivers and lakes and dirt aren’t filled with poisons from factories because we’re too dumb to understand how this works. They’re that way because our politicians are paid off to turn a blind eye to the dumping of toxic waste.
Our schools aren’t terrible because we have dumb kids or bad teachers. It’s because we’re too cheap to pay for them.
You see what I mean? It’s our lust for the almighty dollar. Every time.
We love money.
Which makes me seriously wonder why so many people in this state are going to vote for a man who will cost us all — and especially our biggest businesses — so much of it.
Tommy Tuberville will be like a money vacuum for Alabama. Billions of dollars will vanish for this welfare state that relies so much on federal contracts, federal programs and federal dollars.
If you doubt this, don’t simply take my word for it. Just Google up the press releases from Sen. Richard Shelby’s office from the last, say, six years — the most recent span in which Republicans have controlled the Senate.
Almost every single release is about Shelby securing millions or billions of dollars in federal funding for this project or that project, getting the state’s share of dollars from a variety of different programs and initiatives implemented by Congress.
Shelby and I obviously have different political viewpoints, but it’s hard to argue that the man has been successful in securing money for Alabama. Lots and lots of money.
Money for airports and roads. Money for defense contractors in Huntsville. Money for the port in Mobile. Money for car manufacturers. Money for farmers.
Money. Money. Money.
Shelby can do that because of three things: He’s on the right committees, he’s a member of the party in power and he’s liked by the right people.
Tuberville will be none of those things.
Most pundits are predicting that Democrats will take over the Senate, tipping the balance of power and giving the party control of both houses and the White House.
That automatically means that a first-time senator in the opposition party will have little to no say in any decisions.
But what’s worse for Tuberville, and for Alabama, is that other Republicans don’t like him either.
Establishment Republicans essentially openly campaigned against Tuberville in the primary, tossing tens of millions of dollars behind his opponent, Jeff Sessions. They even favored third-place finisher Bradley Byrne over Tuberville.
It’s not hard to understand why — he’s clueless.
I know that’s a Doug Jones talking point, but this one happens to be true. Let me give you an example: On Thursday, Tuberville tweeted out what was meant to be a shot at Jones, claiming that Alabama’s current senator wouldn’t meet with Trump’s Supreme Court nominee because Jones knows “he won’t have much time in the Senate to work with her.”
If you’re unaware, the Senate doesn’t “work with” the Supreme Court. They’re separate entities.
Combine that with his other nonsensical answers on COVID relief, school reopenings, the Voting Rights Act, senate committee assignments, education, foreign affairs — really, the list is almost endless — and it shows how little work he’s put in over the last two years to understand this job he’s applying for.
Now, that might be just fine with Alabama voters who care more about the party affiliation and owning the libs, but it’s not OK with grownups who take the job of running the country seriously.
And those people — both Rs and Ds — don’t like Tuberville or his here-for-an-easy-check-like-always approach to one of the most serious jobs in the world.
He will be frozen out of the most sought after committee assignments. His voice will carry zero weight. His presence will be all but forgotten.
And in the process, so will Alabama. Especially in two years, when Shelby retires and his senior status is lost.
In the meantime, Jones is highly respected by senators on both sides of the aisle. He already has a presence on top committees, and is so well liked within the Democratic Party that he’s on the short list to be Joe Biden’s AG, should he not be re-elected.
The choice seems pretty simple. On the one hand is a competent, prepared and serious statesman who knows how to maneuver his colleagues to get the most for the state. On the other hand is an unprepared, uncaring, lazy carpetbagger who doesn’t understand any process.
If your conscience or decency isn’t enough, vote your wallets.
Opinion | Doug Jones believes in Alabama voters, even if they don’t deserve it
For some reason, Jones still has faith.
Doug Jones still has faith in the people of Alabama. How that can be, I have no idea. But he does. Trust me, I asked him, and then asked him if he was sure. And then asked if he heard the question correctly.
Current polling has Jones, Alabama’s current U.S. senator, trailing challenger Tommy Tuberville by double digits. Jones is a Democrat. Tuberville is a Republican. And that is the only reason for the state of the polls.
It doesn’t matter that Jones has been anything but a liberal during his two years in D.C. He’s sponsored more bipartisan legislation than any other senator, and he’s generally well liked by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Even here in Alabama, among those who plan to vote for his opponent, the knocks on Jones are vague and lacking in substance. For most, there’s no real vitriol or outrage. It’s almost as if the people of the state are pre-programmed to zombie-walk into a voting booth and vote for the GOP candidate because, well, hell, that’s what everyone else is doing.
Forget, of course, that the GOP candidate in this instance is an unprepared carpetbagger who doesn’t live in this state and who doesn’t know really basic stuff about governance, like what the Voting Rights Act is, and who doesn’t have a position on anything. That candidate is also currently in hiding, refusing to speak publicly or have any of his campaign events recorded, apparently believing that Alabama voters would rather vote for a comatose imbecile with an R beside his name than a qualified Democrat.
But for some reason, Jones still has faith.
“I think this state is full of fair minded people,” Jones said. “If you look back to 2017 and what happened with our campaign, the people of this state proved that they will take a look at a better candidate. Our problem as Democrats in this state is that for so long we haven’t had the resources to get our messages out, to promote good candidates all over the state, to give people that other option. That’s going to change.”
It already has.
No matter what happens in Jones’ Senate race, perhaps the biggest change in Alabama politics moving forward has already occurred — Jones and his faction of the Alabama Democratic Party, the Reform Caucus, wrestled control of the party away from Joe Reed and Nancy Worley last year. That changeover has resulted in a new energy within the party, particularly among younger voters and women, and it has helped spur what has been ADP’s most profitable year of fundraising in years.
There have been growing pains, and quite a few people have learned that building a party almost from scratch is not an easy or quick task. But ADP, at this point in time, is finally in a position to start identifying quality candidates, attacking vulnerable ALGOP incumbents and establishing a viable second party in this state.
“You can’t build a house without a foundation,” Jones said. “What we did in 2017 is lay a good foundation. The house isn’t built yet, but you can definitely see the framing.”
That is not to say that Jones is giving up on his race with Tuberville. Polling in Alabama is notoriously unreliable, and he still sees a handful of pathways to victory.
Without the straight ticket voting option on Alabama ballots, the race would be neck and neck, and Jones might actually have a slight advantage.
And why wouldn’t he?
I mean, for God’s sake, it’s not like things are great under Republican rule. We’re last in almost everything good and first in almost everything bad. From education to health care to infrastructure to ethical government, tell me where things are going swell, please.
Even in the good economy (thanks, Obama!) prior to COVID, this state’s jobs numbers were built on low-wage, service-industry gigs that vanished like smoke at the first sign of economic trouble.
“Besides send a bunch of people from their party to prison, what have (Alabama Republicans) done in the 10 years they’ve been in charge?” Jones said. “Everything is worse. Sure, they’ve attracted some businesses in here — and that’s the thing they talk about — but what has that done for us?”
Our schools are still near the bottom. Our health care system is bordering on third-world, and at least five hospitals are on the verge of economic collapse right now. We can’t manage to get people the unemployment compensation they’re owed. We have no plan for coronavirus and Alabama Republican leadership, outside of Gov. Kay Ivey, hasn’t even bothered to pretend to address the situation.
And with all of that going on, Alabama voters are preparing to send a candidate to the U.S. Senate who hasn’t offered a single detailed plan for any of those problems. Instead, Tuberville has rolled around the state saying “Donald Trump” as often as possible and literally telling people that he doesn’t know how to solve tough problems.
But Jones won’t give up on those voters. He’s going to continue his campaign, continue to spread his message, continue to let people know that there is at least one person in the race who’s actually trying to address the state’s problems.
“Democrats have done a lot for this state over the years,” Jones said. “I think there are still a lot of people out there who know that.”