Alabama May Consider Gaming Compact

In Alabama, "everything is on the table," even a possible gaming compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who operate three Alabama casinos. Some Republicans who repeatedly have rejected a compact now say they're open to discussions, as Governor Robert Bentley (l.) seeks to raise revenues without raising taxes.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley recently asked state legislators to present ideas about raising revenue for the perennially troubled general fund. In the past, Republican lawmakers would not even consider discussing a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the state’s only federally recognized tribe that has been seeking an arrangement with the state for 20 years.

Now, however, some Republicans said they’re willing to bring up the subject. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said, “Is a compact a possibility to look at? Hey, everything is on the table, but I think we need to have a broader vision. The end goal should be how do you solve the budget woes long-term in a fiscally responsible manner?” Republican state Senator Jabo Waggoner agreed. I think we need to put everything on the table and take a look at it,” he said. Democratic state Rep. John Knight noted the state is long overdue to benefit from gambling, however, he said, the state’s tax structure needs a complete overhaul.

A compact would allow the tribe to offer casino-style slots and table games at its Wind Creek Wetumpka casino resort, which offers 85,000 square feet of gaming space with 2,520 electronic bingo machines and a 20-story hotel, as well as at its Atmore and Montgomery casinos. Competitors including Milton McGregor’s VictoryLand have closed due to state crackdowns on bingo operations on non-Indian land.

Bentley has not said if he would engage in compact negotiations with the tribe. He said, “Here again, I’m going to let the legislative group and our people working together bring me back ideas. This may or may not be a part of that. We’ll consider that if it’s part of the overall equation.” Bentley also mentioned the lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Luther Strange challenging the legality of thousands of electronic bingo machines the tribe operates at its three casinos.

“Before we even talk about Indian gaming, I think we need to let that play out in court,” Bentley said. The case currently is before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Poarch Band Governmental Relations Adviser Robert McGhee said, “It is unfortunate that, in these difficult economic times, our compact offer has never been considered.” According to campaign finance records, in the current election cycle, the tribe contributed nearly $2 million, including large sums to Democrat Joe Hubbard who is challenging Strange.