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Opinion | Gaming bill must prioritize local ownership — Alabama first

The bill isn’t just a piece of legislation; it’s a reflection of our commitment to Alabama’s people. It should unequivocally prioritize Alabama businesses.

Alabama is a state rooted in pride and resilience. It’s a state that embodies the spirit of neighbor helping neighbor, a place where the aftermath of a disaster sees communities coming together in solidarity. This unity is not just a social phenomenon; it extends to the very core of our state governance. Gov. Kay Ivey and the legislature have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to nurturing Alabama’s prosperity, investing billions in jobs, infrastructure, and of course, maintaining our status as home to the nation’s best football team. Our leaders recognize that investing in Alabama and its people is the key to building a strong, thriving state. This ethos of “Alabama first” has been our guiding principle.

However, the latest gaming legislation raises questions that seem to contradict this long-held state philosophy. For decades, entities like the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, VictoryLand, Birmingham Race Course, Mobile Race Course, and GreeneTrack have diligently navigated the complexities of Alabama’s gaming laws. They’ve adapted and evolved, facing accusations and legal challenges head-on, aligning their operations with state regulations. The State Attorney General acknowledges that these establishments are operating legally. Why, then, does the new legislation overlook their years of contributions to community growth and prosperity?

The proposed bill aims to legalize 10 casino locations across Alabama. This would mean that longstanding local businesses in Macon County, Greene County, Mobile County, and Birmingham, which have been part of our gaming landscape for decades, would now have to vie with outside entities for licenses to continue their operations. This approach doesn’t just overlook their legacy; it threatens to replace them with out-of-state bidders.

In previous gaming legislation drafts, there was a clear preference for in-state operators. It’s only fair that these current operators are given at least a right to a Best and Final offer, allowing them the opportunity to match or exceed bids after all offers have been considered. This ensures a level playing field and honors their longstanding commitment to our state.

We must ask ourselves, do we want entities like Las Vegas casinos or foreign interests dictating the future of gaming in Alabama? The current trajectory of this legislation, prioritizing outsiders over our own, is not only out of character for Alabama but frankly, it’s alarming.

Gov. Ivey and Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter’s support of this bill marks a significant shift from previous legislative sessions. However, the core principle should remain unchanged: Alabama must protect its own. Local business owners are deeply rooted in our communities. They reinvest profits locally, make decisions with firsthand understanding of community impacts, and create stable, community-focused jobs.

The legislative history on gambling in Alabama is fraught with challenges. Despite numerous attempts, comprehensive gambling legislation has repeatedly faltered. Typically, these efforts have stalled in the House, lacking the necessary leadership and support. This time, as we approach a potential vote, let’s not allow the stumbling block to be a deviation from our fundamental value of supporting Alabama’s businesses.

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The gaming bill isn’t just a piece of legislation; it’s a reflection of our values and our commitment to Alabama’s people. It should unequivocally prioritize Alabama businesses.

As Alabamians, we must champion a gaming bill that aligns with our state’s values, ensuring that when we vote, we’re not just voting for gaming – we’re voting for Alabama, for our communities, and for the enduring spirit that makes us proud to call this state our home. As we stand on the cusp of this potentially historic change, let’s not forget the principle that has guided us through both prosperity and hardship: Alabama first.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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