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McCutcheon says public opinion is driving gambling debate

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters that public opinion is driving the debate on gambling.

Speaker McCutcheon praised Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s (R) working group on gambling and said that a lot of good people had been appointed to that group.

At Gov. Ivey’s State of the State address, she told the Legislature to wait on bringing any gaming bills until her working group could be appointed, study the issue, and issue a recommendation on what sort of gambling should be passed by the legislature, if any. Thus far the Legislature has complied with the governor’s request.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked McCutcheon, there are only 24 legislative days left in this session, wouldn’t it make more sense for the legislature to give the Governor’s working group six months or whatever time they need to formulate a recommendation. That would give legislators time to carefully study and understand this proposal and bring it in the 2021 legislative session, rather than trying to pass a bill in the next few weeks without legislators having time to fully understand what it is that they are voting on.

McCutcheon agreed that that would be smart, but that public demand is driving this debate.

“Legislators are hearing from constituents who are asking why all of our neighboring states have lotteries and other gaming and we don’t,” McCutcheon said.

APR asked: this would be a constitutional amendment so if anything is wrong at all in the bill that passes it is not so easy to go in and fix. Doing it in a special session would give legislators more time to analyze the legislation.

“That’s a good option, but public opinion is driving this train and that is growing,” McCutcheon replied.

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Reporters asked what committee would the gambling bill be assigned to. Last year it went to tourism.

McCutcheon said that he needed to see the bill to know what committee it would be assigned to. “It could be an education lottery,” in which case it would go to education. We have to wait and see.

Last year, the Senate passed a simple paper lottery proposal that would have brought revenue to the state general fund (SGF). Some legislators in the House objected and argued that gambling funds should go to education. Others objected to the lottery bill because it did not have video lottery terminals (VLTs) at the existing dog tracks.

Before this legislative session began, the Poarch Creek band of Indians (PCI) which operate two large video bingo casinos in Wetumpka and Atmore, presented a proposal which would bring the state “a billion dollars” in exchange for a compact with the state. In exchange the state would fully legitimize their existing gaming facilities, allow them to expand those to full Class A gaming with table games, allow the tribe to build new casinos in Birmingham and Huntsville, and a sports book. There would also be a lottery. The existing dog track operators in Shorter, Birmingham, and Greene County object to this proposal because it would give PCI a de facto gaming monopoly.

Gambling opponents argue than any lottery or expansion of gambling proposal would prey on people who don’t understand math and would adversely affect the poorest among us.

 

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Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.

In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.

“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”

“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.

 

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Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19

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A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.

The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.

All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.

In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.

Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.

 

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Three workers at ADOC headquarters among latest to test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sixteen more Alabama Department of Corrections employees, including three at the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The department’s latest update, released Monday evening, puts the total of confirmed cases among employees at 99, with 73 cases still active. 

Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as well, including inmates at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and the St. Clair Correctional Facility.

18 of 27 confirmed cases among inmates remained active as of Monday, according to ADOC. 

Of the department’s 28 facilities, there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or inmates in 21. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 214 had been tested as of Friday. 

Areas inside numerous state prisons are under quarantine, with ADOC staff either limiting inmate movements to those areas or checking for symptoms regularly and conducting twice daily temperature checks, according to the department.

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Still work to be done on an Alabama gambling deal

Josh Moon

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A grand deal on gambling is possible in Alabama, but there’s still a long way to go. 

That was essentially the message that representatives from the Poarch Creek Indians and owners of non-Indian casinos around the state gave Friday to Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy. The 12-member group heard presentations, via Zoom, from representatives from all the tracks and casinos in the state, as it continues in its quest to put together a proposal that Ivey and state lawmakers can use to hopefully craft future gambling legislation. 

To move forward with almost any legislation will require an agreement of some sort between PCI, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn, the CEO of GreeneTrack. The owners of smaller electronic bingo halls in Greene and Lowndes Counties will also have some input. 

The tug of war between these various entities has, over the last several years, prevented an expansion of gambling. It also has left the state in a weird situation in which casinos are operating on a daily basis but there are numerous legal questions and the state is making very little in the way of tax dollars from any of them. 

But with public support for lotteries, sportsbooks and even full casino gambling at all-time highs (even a majority of Republican voters surveyed said they support full casinos in the state), and with neighboring states rapidly expanding offerings, state lawmakers seem ready to push through legislation to make it happen. 

And now, it seems, the two sides in this fight — PCI and the track owners — are ready to make a deal. 

“I feel like there’s a plan out there that would benefit all of us,” said Benefield, who is the son-in-law of Milton McGregor, who passed away in 2018. “I’d like to see us put together something that gets these customers back from surrounding states. I just really feel like we can work together.”

Benefield wasn’t alone in those feelings. 

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“We stand ready to sit down and talk (about a grand deal) with anyone,” said Arthur Mothershed, who, as vice president of business development for PCI, handled the tribe’s presentation on Friday. 

Mothershed and Benefield have each said previously, and APR has reported, that the tribe and the non-Indian entities have held several discussions over the last few months in a quest to work out a deal. 

There is a new, old player involved, however. 

Former Gov. Jim Folsom, now a lobbyist, represented several Greene County electronic bingo entities, including GreeneTrack, during the conference. Folsom and others representing the bingo casinos told the group that bingo is essentially the financial lifeblood for their county, and that without it multiple county services could go unfunded. 

Ivey’s study group has met four times with the goal of providing state lawmakers with clear answers on questions of revenue, risks and options for gaming types. Any legislation approved by lawmakers would have to be approved by voters.

 

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