On Wednesday, the owners of Alabama’s four dog tracks — VictoryLand, GreeneTrack, Mobile Greyhound Park and the Birmingham Race Course — launched a new statewide advertising campaign to highlight the tax revenue that Alabama is losing every year because its lawmakers simply refuse to pass comprehensive gaming and lottery legislation.
The ads put the lost revenue at around $700 million — the estimated amount that a 2021 gaming and lottery bill would have generated, according to a number of studies. But the actual lost revenue could be more than that for the state, given it will also miss out on the payroll taxes generated by the new casinos and the revenue from a compact that will be negotiated on the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ three currently operating casinos.
We’re talking potentially around $1 billion annually to pay for college scholarships, broadband internet expansion, rural health care expansion and money for K-12 classrooms.
The inability to get this done is, quite honestly, mind boggling.
Because what’s happening here is unlike anything that’s happened in the past, when it comes to the long-running fights over gambling in this state. I know a lot about those fights. I covered some. I researched others. I tracked the history of these fights through three decades.
This fight ain’t like those fights.
It is unlike those fights because there is organization among the interested parties, very little organized opposition and a clear and obvious benefit to the public spelled out in the bill. Also, it’s extremely popular with voters, drawing miniscule negative reaction from any voter group.
And that’s what makes the reluctance of Gov. Kay Ivey to include gaming in a special session so confusing.
Because without the bickering between the track owners and the Poarch Creeks, and without a strong pushback from the religious right, this is less of a gambling bill and more of an economic development bill.
You’re not doing something controversial and bold anymore. Hell, we’ve got gambling all over this state and all around us. No one cares anymore.
Now, all you’re doing is creating jobs and tax revenue. And you’re doing it without promising a dime of taxpayer money in incentives.
If I told you that a company was relocating its production factories to Alabama and would bring about a billion dollars in tax revenue annually, along with 12,000-15,000 permanent jobs, and create development hubs, around which other businesses would locate — and that this company would do these things in some of our most economically depressed areas, providing unprecedented revenue increases for cash-strapped school districts — our politicians would be tripping over themselves to offer up incentives packages that stretched into the tens of millions of dollars.
We would build that company’s access roads. We would train their employees. We would give them cash. We would give them payroll tax breaks.
We don’t have to do any of those things with this casino bill.
We’re going to get what amounts to three Toyota-Mazda plants, minus the $700 million in incentives we paid for one. And yet, for some reason, Ivey has been hedging on her promise to include gaming in a special session if the gaming bill has the votes.
According to the major players involved in the negotiations, the votes are there. Arguments surrounding a facility in Lowndes County — the only issue that prevented the bill’s passage at the end of the 2021 legislative session — have been resolved and the bill is ready to move forward.
And still, zilch from the governor’s office.
If only we could get Ivey to push as hard for a gaming bill that would generate hundreds of millions in tax revenue as she has for three prisons that no one wants and a gas tax that’s about to cost the state’s working class thousands of dollars after this week’s hurricane.
Nevertheless, here we are, with a gambling bill that a majority of people are good with and with no real opposition to its passing — and staring straight at an opportunity, through the scholarship program and healthcare expansion, to fundamentally change this state for the better forever — and we can’t get it done.
And the only reason I can figure for why is that we’re just not used to doing big, good things around here.