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Opinion | Self-interested lawmakers are why Alabama gambling laws are so messed up

Josh Moon

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There are many, many reasons for the mess that is Alabama’s current predicament with gambling — bad laws, lazy and indifferent lawmakers, under-the-table money, constitutional amendments and outside influences all playing roles. 

But one of the biggest is dishonest politicians with personal gain at stake. 

People like state Sen. Greg Albritton. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Albritton’s work in the past, he’s the man who single handedly killed a viable lottery bill last year and also blocked a bill that would have allowed dog tracks in Macon and Green counties to operate electronic bingo machines like the ones at Poarch Band of Creek Indians casino. 

Essentially, Albritton is the lawmaker who represents a casino owner. 

He so blatantly and shamelessly represents the interests of the Poarch Creek Indians on matters of gaming that his Republican colleagues have began calling him the “senator from Poarch Creek” behind his back. 

Now, we could get into how Albritton has shirked the duties of an elected senator, failed his overall constituency and become what appears to be a hired agent for a casino owner, but those things have been covered fairly extensively. Just last year, when he was doing his work killing the lottery on behalf of the PCI casinos, a number of news outlets pointed out that Albritton, who didn’t have an opponent in his last run for office, was given tens of thousands of dollars by the Poarch Creeks. 

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(Taking gambling money used to be a big no-no in the Alabama Republican Party — and rules against it still exist in the ALGOP bylaws — but apparently those aren’t enforced anymore.)

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But what’s really important is how Albritton — and others like him — have helped create the current pathetic state of gambling in Alabama. A state where three successful casinos exist yet not a dime of revenue is generated in tax dollars for the Alabama people. 

A state where we have fought long and hard over everything from video poker to electronic bingo. A state where misinformation rules the day and individual interests dominate most debates. 

Here’s an example of how that happens: On Thursday, al.com printed a story quoting both Gov. Kay Ivey and Albritton on a recent plan by the Poarch Creeks that would give them exclusive gaming rights. 

The story was filled with the typical fluff from lawmakers about listening to all options and going through the proper channels and yada, yada, yada. Same thing as always. 

And then there’s Albritton’s quote: “The other (issue) we have is that we have other gaming going on that claims to be pari-mutuel or other forms of gaming that courts rule is illegal that goes on and there is a lack of clarity. When we deal with gaming, we have to find a way to answer all of those questions. It’s why we are unable to pass a lottery.”

That is an impressive quote, if you’re judging it by how much BS you can fit into just three short sentences.

Almost none of this true. 

No court has ruled pari-mutuel gaming illegal. It’s expressly legal in several counties by virtue of constitutional amendment. 

You don’t have to deal with any of that. You can pass gambling legislation regardless of those small gambling operations. 

And none of that — NONE. OF. THAT. — is why a lottery hasn’t passed. 

Albritton and his bosses at PCI are why the last lottery didn’t pass. PCI didn’t want the lottery proposed because it would have cut into their gaming profits. Albritton did their bidding and blocked it, despite the fact that it cost Alabama citizens roughly $400 million per year. 

These are facts. 

In addition, Albritton knows full well that pari-mutuel wagering is not illegal. But by saying so, he is attempting to raise questions about gaming occurring at the Birmingham Race Course. That gaming was approved by three different Alabama attorneys general, including the current one, and is without-a-doubt legal. 

But see, that gaming, if it is successful in drawing patrons to the Birmingham Race Course, threatens the future plans of PCI, who see Birmingham as a lucrative new site for a future gaming complex. 

And so, out trots Albritton, at the first available moment, to raise questions about the legality of it. 

It’s just so … slimy. 

And look, I don’t blame the Poarch Creeks for any of this. Or the dog track owners. Or any of the commercial casinos who are trying to either establish a location in Alabama or block expansion in Alabama to protect their locations near Alabama. 

That’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re no different from any other business out there trying to use every available tool to get ahead. 

But I do have a problem with the people like Albritton, who are blatantly selling out the people of Alabama. These are the guys who are supposed to be standing in the gap, weeding through the various options and securing the best deal for all Alabamians. 

They’re not doing it. And it’s the reason why gambling laws in this state are so completely screwed up.

 

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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