Alabamians Want Gambling Vote

An Alabama Jobs Foundation poll showed 89 percent of Alabamians want to vote on a constitutional amendment allowing a state lottery and casino gambling, as proposed by state Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. His measure also would urge Governor Robert Bentley (l.) to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

A recent poll found 89 percent of Alabamians want to be able to vote on allowing gambling in the state. Commissioned by the Alabama Jobs Foundation, the poll indicated 92 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of independents want to vote on the issue. An AJF spokesperson said of all the proposals to help the state’s budget crisis, “the one that was most attractive and the one that we thought would have a long-term impact and provide a long-term solution for the state’s budgetary needs was an amendment being proposed by Senator Del Marsh.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Marsh’s a constitutional amendment would let voters decide if they want to allow a state lottery and bring casino games to the state’s four existing dog tracks. The measure also urges Governor Robert Bentley to sign a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to bring casino gambling to their facilities. The proposal would bring an estimated 11,000 new jobs and $1.2 billion in revenue to Alabama, with nearly $400 million in annual gaming revenue going to the state.

Marsh noted the bill wouldn’t solve this year’s budget situation but could help avoid future crises. The Alabama legislature currently is meeting in a special session to address the budget issue. Marsh said Alabamians are buying lottery tickets and gambling out of state. “They’re spending the money. The question is, we’re not benefiting at all. Our schools aren’t benefiting, the general fund’s not benefiting from that revenue that’s going out of state,” Marsh said.

Meanwhile Bentley continues to put down the Poarch Creek tribe’s $250 million offer to plug the state’s budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, in return for a compact giving the tribe exclusive rights to gambling in the state. Said Bentley, “We have not been offered $250 million by the Poarch Creek Indians. We can’t take money from them because it’s advance money that will be paid on things down the road. I really wish they would be honest with the state of Alabama. What they are saying now is just totally dishonest.” Bentley maintains the budget must be solved with a combination of tax increases and reforms, not from gambling dollars.

In response, Poarch Creek Chair Stephanie Bryan said, “Our tribe is genuinely committed to being part of the solution to Alabama’s financial crisis. We believe that these difficult times demand bold action on the part of everyone in a position to help our state. We are sincere in our offer to give Alabama the $250 million it needs now. And we are confident that where there is a will to fix this problem, the great legal minds in our state’s government will find a way to accept this ground-breaking solution for the good of Alabama and its citizens.” She added a gaming compact would give Alabama “a steady stream of revenue and will prevent this sort of financial crisis in the future.”

Besides Alabama officials, the Walker (Creek) Indiana Nation of Sylacauga also has expressed concern over giving the Poarch Creeks a monopoly of Alabama’s gaming industry. The tribe has applied for federal recognition and land-trust status for 54 acres it owns where it wants to build a hotel-casino. Tribal Chief Jeremiah Walker said the casino would be self-financed.

Walker hopes to break ground on the project prior to the end of his first term in 2018. “We are so close. We only need one signature,” Walker said.