Poarch Creeks: Governor Should Make First Move

Officials of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians said it's up to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (l.) to start discussions about a gaming compact. So far the tribe has heard nothing. Bentley has said he's open to a compact to help solve the state's $200 million budget gap.

Robert McGhee, chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, recently said, in order to start discussions about gaming compact with the state of Alabama, a formal request would have to come from Governor Robert Bentley’s office to Tribal Council Chair Stephanie Bryan. That request has not yet arrived. But Bentley has said a gaming compact would offer one way to ease the state’s general fund’s 0 million budget shortfall, although he does not consider gambling revenues to be the best solution. Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said he has decided whether or not to pursue a compact with the Poarch Creeks.

McGhee said a gaming compact would allow the tribe to offer Class III gaming, including slots, blackjack and other table games. The tribe can offer electronic bingo in Alabama as long as any form of bingo is legal in Alabama, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission. McGhee said state-tribal agreements typically give the state 5 percent, 7 percent or 10 percent of gaming revenues. He added a compact probably would include some form of exclusivity, at least for a specified time period, to protect the tribe from competition.

According to the tribe’s annual report, its casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka, which offer electronic bingo games, had net earnings of $322 million in 2012.The state does not regulate them or share in the revenue. Recently the tribe opened a new hotel and casino in Wetumpka and has announced plans to expand operations and build a hotel in Montgomery.

Philip Bryan, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, said Marsh would not be opposed to Bentley initiating compact talks with the Poarch Creeks. “We’ve said all along that as we work to find solutions to the perpetual budget shortfall in the general fund, all options, from revenue enhancements to further consolidation, are on the table,” Bryan said.

State Senator Trip Pittman, chairman of the Senate’s education budget committee, stated, “I just think gambling is a poor way to fund government. It has a negative impact on people who can least afford it.”

State Attorney General Luther Strange lost a lawsuit in federal court, in an attempt to shut down the Poarch Creek casinos. He said he wants the courts to clarify if the tribe’s electronic bingo games are legal. The state has appealed.