No Lottery, Casinos For Alabama

A measure allowing voters decide if they wanted a lottery and racinos died in the Alabama Senate. Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh proposed the constitutional amendment to help fill the state's $200 million budget gap. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, operators of the Wind Creek casino (l.) in Atmore, offered the state $250 million in exchange for gaming exclusivity.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh’s proposal that would have let voters decide if they want a state lottery and casinos at state dog tracks failed to get a vote on the Senate floor before senators adjourned May 28. Complex legislative rules make it challenging to pass certain bills in the final four days of the 30-day session. The bill would have helped fill the state’s estimated 0 million budget gap.

Marsh, who called the past few days of the session “frustrating,” said the Senate does not want to pass new taxes to address the budget shortfall. As a result, a special session likely will be scheduled. “I think most are resigned to a special session,” Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Chairman Arthur Orr said. Marsh noted he believes legislators want to continue discussing gambling as a revenue source.

Earlier this month the House approved the state’s general fund budget including $200 million in spending cuts. Governor Robert Bentley stated he will veto any budget that includes the severe cuts. Bentley had proposed raising $541 million in new taxes to address short-term and long-term budget issues.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians had offered as a gift or a loan to the state of $250 million upfront, with the condition that the state would negotiate a compact giving the tribe exclusive rights to Class III gaming.

The offer comes as Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange awaits a ruling on an appeal in federal court that would shut down the Poarch Creeks’ electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery. Former Governor Bob Riley’s task force began shutting down non-Indian casinos in 2010, so for the past five years the Poarch Creeks have been operating gambling without competition and without any sort of revenue sharing agreement with Alabama, under the regulation of the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act and the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Meanwhile, a new Hampton Inn, set to open in February in Wetumpka, is ready to catch overflow from the Poarch Creeks’ Wind Creek casino hotel. Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis said Wind Creek Wetumpka is booked 80-85 percent on weekdays and 100 percent on weekends; the hotel and casino draw about 3 million people to Wetumpka annually. But Willis said he’s not concerned if Marsh’s legislation eventually passes, which would reopen the now-closed VictoryLand, located just 30 miles from Wetumpka. “I still think that is not an issue for us as a city. I think that may become an issue for the Poarch Creek gaming operation but not as far as the city is concerned. We really just make our plans as though they were not here. Wetumpka is a destination within itself.”

Auburn University Montgomery economist Keivan Deravi noted, “With all due respect, I don’t think that this crowd is interested in attractions. This crowd is really interested in gambling. And gambling is gambling. If people go to gamble, they won’t go to a specific place. It would become a competition for who offers better variety, better hotels.”

VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor said, “When VictoryLand reopens, it would also reopen its hotel, restaurants, buffet, Starbucks shop and gift shop. All of its amenities were and would be again extremely well run and attractive to the customers. VictoryLand also has plans for an entertainment venue and conference capabilities. In fact, the architectural plans and initial construction has been completed.” He added, “Wind Creek Wetumpka would benefit from having another tourist destination nearby. Before the Poarch monopoly, VictoryLand drew patrons from several neighboring states. Those same people would visit VictoryLand and Wetumpka. If they were not playing well at one location, they would visit the other location.”

The Poarch Creeks also recently announced they have taken over the Blue Collar Country entertainment project in Foley. Tim Martin, president of Poarch Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority, said the previous developers failed to meet certain commitments. He added, “The Tribal Council saw the long-term value of the project. We will be changing the name to broaden the appeal. Our intent is to make it centered on Americana and create a world-class family friendly resort. ”In addition, Martin said, “We have been mandated by the Tribal Council to look at other projects outside of gaming and diversify. This will not be a gaming enterprise.”