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Analysis | The gambling report is fine, but the same hurdles remain

“We can’t get legislation until the two sides make a deal. Which is right where we’ve been the whole time.”


Did you know that if you approve alcohol sales around the state, and then set up a system to properly regulate and tax those sales, you can generate tens of millions of dollars from those sales each year for the state? 

What’s that? You did know this? Because that’s not exactly new information to anyone at this point? 

That’s pretty much the same way we should feel about the “official report” released last week by Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy. 

It was a fine, well-put together report that summed all up the things we already know about legalized gambling, except the one thing that’s most important: None of it matters until the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the owners of three dog track casinos come together and reach an agreement. 

All of the information and dollar amounts and best practices don’t matter at all until those two entities come together and agree on a “grand deal,” as some have termed it, to move this decades-old fight forward into the current century. 

To that end, quietly and slowly, behind the scenes, some movement has occurred in that direction. That doesn’t mean a deal is close or that will ever be a deal, but there is at least a cordial line of communication between the parties. 

I’ve written in the past that there likely is a pathway to a deal — one that will make both sides a boatload of money — but it will involve neither side getting all they want. To this point, there have been various snags that have prevented such a deal. 

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For those new to this discussion, and particularly for anyone who has moved to this state recently and is utterly confused about grown people fighting over lotteries and casinos in 2020, here’s a brief recap of where we are: Currently, in Alabama, the Poarch Creeks own and operate three electronic bingo casinos on tribal lands. They pay zero in state taxes. There are also three dog track casinos (and a handful of small, independently owned casinos) that operate electronic bingo games. 

Two of the three dog track casinos operate in very poor Alabama counties, and those counties rely heavily upon the tax revenue and jobs. The state has argued in the past that these casinos are operating illegally, but the casino operators argue that they have constitutional amendments protecting their businesses. 

Complicating matters further, lower state courts routinely deem the casinos to be legal, while the Alabama Supreme Court has consistently deemed them illegal. In addition, the state has been incredibly inconsistent in both enforcing the laws, embracing the casinos as legal businesses and simply establishing a precedent of looking the other way. 

The state Legislature, in the meantime, has managed to do diddly squat to rectify the situation. Any of about 100 bills over the last four decades (yeah, FOUR!) could have put an end to this craziness, but they didn’t manage to pass any of them. Mainly because the two entities I mentioned previously — the track owners and the Poarch Creeks — have fought like hell to keep anything from passing that might benefit the other.

That has left Alabama in this remarkable situation: There is gambling all over the state, and we are surrounded by states with lotteries, full casinos, online sports wagering and online lottery games. Millions upon millions of Alabamians gamble, and yet the State of Alabama receives not one penny from it. 

And about once every three years, a governor or a Senate president or a House speaker commissions a study of some sorts in attempt to learn something new about what is now a very old issue in every other state. 

And like all of those other studies, this one found the same thing: Alabama could generate nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars annually if it would simply pass legislation allowing the voting public — which overwhelmingly supports gambling of all kinds — to approve a system that legalizes and properly regulates and taxes gambling. 

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The report, which is over 800 pages long, does a good job of supplying basic facts about the various options and their consequences or benefits. And it arrives at those conclusions by laying out how other states have implemented and regulated gaming, and detailed how large their gaming revenues have been. 

I suppose it’s useful if there comes a time in the near future when it’s necessary to dispute an idiotic assertion by a lawmaker who is carrying the water for one side or the other in this fight. 

But at the end of the day, we’re still left with this: We stand to make a lot of money that could go towards making a huge difference for a lot of people in this state, but we can’t get there without agreement on legislation that moves us forward. And we can’t get to that legislation until the two sides in this long-running fight make a deal. 

Which is right where we’ve been the whole time.

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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