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Opinion | The ‘dark money group’ is right: Alabama gaming laws have provided the Poarch Creeks with an unfair advantage

Josh Moon

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There is a “dark money group” attacking the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. 

You probably heard that this week. A lot of media outlets are reporting it. The “dark money group” headed up by former Sen. Gerald Dial. The “dark money group” that refuses to disclose its financial backers. 

The “dark money group” was a big focus. 

Somewhat less of a focus, however, is what the “dark money group” is actually saying about the Poarch Creek Indians. 

That they’re controlling Alabama’s Legislature, dictating which bills get passed and how our government operates. That they are raking in billions in gaming revenue from their three casinos in this state without paying a dime of taxes on any of it. That they’re spreading that money all over the country and in other countries as they buy up properties and do properly-taxed business elsewhere. 

That’s what the “dark money group” Poarch Creek Accountability Now has said about the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PBCI). 

And, you know, that seems fair. 

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While inconvenient for PBCI, all of that is true. And there are a whole lot of people who have been concerned about — and rubbed the wrong way by — the current gaming setup in Alabama, as it relates to the Poarch Creeks and to overall gaming. 

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One group that absolutely took the Poarch Creek Accountability Now group seriously was PBCI, which issued a press release late Wednesday responding to Dial’s press conference earlier that day.

The release didn’t really dispute anything, because, again, everything Dial and PCAN stated was factual. But the Poarch Creek release did point out that the tribe has done nothing wrong, has always been willing to work out a compact with the state and forks over millions of dollars it doesn’t have to just to be a decent neighbor. 

All true. 

There was one … alternative fact in the PBCI release. It stated that the tribe pays taxes just like any other business. I know what they’re getting — that some portion of their non-gaming businesses do pay taxes and they pay taxes on items they purchase for their businesses. But on the activity that rakes in billions in profits for them — electronic bingo gambling — they pay zilch in taxes to Alabama. (For comparison, they’ll pay 16 percent in on-site gaming taxes at their casino in Pennsylvania.) 

And they shouldn’t pay taxes here. The laws very clearly give PBCI the right to operate without paying taxes. 

But it’s also a valid point to say that this setup is very bad for the majority of Alabamians. As PCAN has pointed out, the tribe is currently enjoying the best of both worlds, and doing so at the expense of Alabama citizens. 

PBCI is making buckets of tax-free money, claiming sovereignty and avoiding taxes and a number of laws, while also dabbling in Alabama politics to the point that it’s dictating which bills get passed. 

That’s not right. 

Last session, for example, a perfectly reasonable lottery bill was debated. It was a similar lottery bill to ones offered up in bunches of other states, including the portion that would have allowed video lottery terminals to be operated in state dog tracks. It would have made the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. 

PBCI’s senator, Greg Albritton, blocked it. Over and over again. 

Albritton also blocked local legislation in Macon and Greene counties that would have allowed dog tracks in those counties to operate the exact same machines that PBCI operate. 

Now, think about that for a moment. An Alabama elected official blocked legislation that would have brought in millions in tax revenue in order to protect the business of an entity that pays zero in state taxes in the same arena. 

I don’t care who you are, or what sort of dark money is behind your message, that ain’t right. 

In fact, it’s insane. 

Which is a fairly accurate description of how this state has handled its gambling legislation and operations for going on a half-century now. Everything about it has been poorly thought out, mostly knee-jerk and incredibly counterproductive for the state as a whole. And now, we’re allowing a sovereign entity to maintain almost total control of our lawmakers in order to maintain a status quo that costs Alabama about a half-billion dollars in tax revenue every single year. 

If it takes a “dark money group” to finally get people to think about just what the hell it is we’re doing, so be it. 

There’s a pathway forward here which allows for the Poarch Creeks to continue to flourish and also allows for the state to make an appropriate amount of tax dollars to pay for scholarships and pre-K and gambling addiction centers and other expenses. 

At this point, I would back almost anything that gets us to that path.

 

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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