Despite Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for the Legislature to give her “time to get the facts,” on a lottery and gaming before proceeding with legislation, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh summoned representatives of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians and two of the state’s dog tracks to sit down and discuss moving ahead on a proposed lottery and gaming bill.
A day after Ivey’s State of the State, Marsh, along with Senators Bobby Singleton and Steve Livingston, held a conference with Robbie McGhee, PCI’s Vice-chair, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn from Greenetrack to try and reach an agreement among the three gaming entities.
Marsh, at the Wednesday meeting, informed those gathered that they needed to come up with a compromise on the gaming issue so that legislation could proceed with a constitutional amendment on a lottery and gaming package this session.
Participants in the closed-door meeting declined to speak with APR about the content of their discussions. However, those who have knowledge of the conversation did relay some of the details to APR.
According to those sources, the group discussed what a compromise might look like, what tax revenue the facilities would be allotted to the state and locations sought by PCI.
Reportedly, the discussions were generally cordial and productive while lawmakers were present, but that the tone changed dramatically once the lawmakers left the room.
Two sources with an understanding of events said that McGhee turned arrogantly defiant after the legislators left, telling the track owners that PCI didn’t need to compromise because they already have the votes necessary to pass their desired legislation. Benefield, Winn nor PCI would confirm APR‘s sources’ account.
Any lottery or gaming legislation requires an amendment to the state’s 1901 Constitution, which must be approved by a vote of the people. The governor plays no direct part in legislation that involves constitutional amendments.
PCI is demanding Class III Vegas-style gaming, which would require a tribal-state compact that must be negotiated under the authority of the governor.
There is a way to bypass Ivey, although it is fraught with complications.
If the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment that includes a comprehensive gaming solution plus an authorization for the governor to negotiate a compact with PCI, then a potential federal-state showdown could occur.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires that tribe request the negotiation of compacts with states in which they intend to conduct Class III gaming. “States, in turn, must negotiate with tribes in good faith to develop such a compact,” according to a report in Indian Gaming Lawyers. “If the state refuses to do so, the federal government may intervene and potentially impose a compact if all other efforts to secure a compact have failed.”
In a report titled The Tribal Trump Card, Patrick Sullivan explores several cases in which tribes have sued various states under IGRA’s good faith clause.
If the tribe has the vote to pass its legislation, that is not publicly known at this time.
Others close to the tribe say McGhee’s remarks to the track operators should be ignored as he is still smarting from the billion-dollar “Winning for Alabama” campaign that is a bust for PCI.
A recent survey conducted for Alabama Republicans found that an overwhelming majority of likely Republican primary voters disapprove of any legislation giving the Poarch Creeks a monopoly. Those numbers skyrocket in the areas where PCI casinos currently exist.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon has stated publicly that he wants to push for a grand gaming package that puts the issue to rest once and for all and also brings in a lot of money for the state. He has indicated that anything short of a grand plan will not get a hearing.
Do the Legislature and PCI want to challenge Ivey? That’s a daunting question for anyone who has watched her operate the levers of power over the last few years.
Whether Marsh’s meeting was meant to undermine Ivey’s call for time to “get the facts,” or a last attempt at a compromise is unclear. But what is certain is Ivey’s intentions to seize gaming issues and bring a solution to the Legislature in the best interest of the state.