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Bill Britt

Opinion | Sir, here are your winnings: Let the people vote

Bill Britt

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When the Legislature returns to Montgomery on Tuesday to resume its regular session, State Sen. Dr. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, is expected to file a constitutional amendment to allow the people to vote on a lottery.

Polling shows that a plurality of Alabamians want an opportunity to vote on a lottery. Further polling finds that an overwhelming majority of citizens not only want to pass a lottery but want it to encompass more than just Powerball type games and scratch-offs.

McClendon is keeping his bill close to his vest, but as a diligent conservative lawmaker, he would have looked thoroughly at all the issues before dropping such an essential piece of legislation.

The classic 1942 film, “Casablanca,” is rated as one of the greatest movies of all time. Its unrequited romance set against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied Paris and North Africa is the gold standard of loner tough guy meets a damsel in distress. It is also known for its witty one-liners and the flagrant hypocrisy of government officials.

In one scene, police Captain Louis Renault is ordered by his Nazi boss to close down Rick’s, a cafe, bar and casino that serves as the location focus of the film.

In his announcement that Rick’s is to be shuttered immediately, he says, “I’m shocked that there is gambling in this establishment.”

Without missing a beat, a waiter hands Renault a bundle of cash saying, “Sir, here are your winnings.”

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Renault quickly pockets the money with a sly acknowledgment of the dirty secret.

The same dirty secret has been evident in the state since then-Gov. Bob Riley’s war on bingo.

Not only is it widely believed that Riley profited from his war on bingo, so did then-ALGOP chair Mike Hubbard.

Nonprofit Founder Claims Bob Riley Directed Donations to Hubbard-Owned Businesses

Riley used the anti-gambling group, Citizens for a Better Alabama, to funnel money to Hubbard in a brazen scheme.

Seven years ago, APR asked and answered, “Why was the Chairman of the ALGOP coordinating money and advertising for a nonprofit that is supposed to be non-partisan and then funneling the money to his own companies?”

It also asked, “What business did a sitting governor and his staff have directing campaign donations to a nonprofit that was supposed to be non-partisan and then actually telling them how to spend the money?”

We know the answer – opposing gaming was a money maker.

Many of the same individuals who organized CBA will once again fight to overpower McClendon’s legislation but who will fund them and who will profit from their endeavor this time remains as open question.

Despite what lottery opponents say, the state already has gambling, but it doesn’t enjoy the tax benefits or have the mechanism to fight its ill effects.

Of course, the beneficiaries of Riley and Hubbard’s underhanded schemes is the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who, thanks to the pair’s shady dealings, enjoy a monopoly on gaming in the state.

PCI Chief Stepanie Bryan says the tribe will fight any lottery measure that threatens its billion dollar monopoly. Bryan should be more concerned about the skeletons in PCI’s closet than what’s in an Alabama lottery act.

PCI claims sovereignty from state law while sticking its nose in what laws the state wants to pass.

Over the next several weeks, APR will look at various lawmakers who oppose gaming but take money from PCI. One Jefferson County legislator says he can’t vote for a state lottery, but he has no problem taking money from PCI. Perhaps the long-serving senator is shocked that the money he’s getting from the tribe is proceeds from an illegal gambling operation but then again it may be just good old fashioned hypocrisy.

In the past, Gov. Kay Ivey said she wanted to give the people a chance to vote on a lottery. Let her former words now ring true with actions.

Now is the time for the Legislature to hear the voice of the people and not just the naysayers.

Allowing gaming is actually a very Republican notion. Some of the national party’s biggest donors are casino owners.

For goodness sake, President Donald Trump was a casino owner and questioned why laws favored Indian gaming at the expense of others.

It’s time to end the years of hypocrisy fostered by Riley, Hubbard, PCI and the anti-gaming crowd, and let the people vote.

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