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4/1/2009 - April 2009 SLI Educational Update - Making Illegal Gambling Legal



To: SLI Supporters

Date: April 2009

From: A. Eric Johnston

Re: Making Illegal Gambling Legal

Two bills in the Alabama Legislature, HB 676 and SB 471, seek to make what is now illegal electronic bingo gambling legal in the State of Alabama. The purpose of these bills is to thwart Governor Bob Riley’s task force on illegal gambling. At the recent House Tourism and Marketing Committee, Chairman Johnny Mack Morrow said all of the parties with an interest came together in preparation of the bill. It is certainly true that all gambling interests in Alabama came together to propose a constitutional amendment which would monopolize, expand, and immunize electronic bingo gambling in Alabama.

Article IV, § 65, 1901 Constitution of Alabama, does not permit games of chance. Alabama citizens have permitted only 18 constitutional amendments to permit limited charitable bingo by churches, civic groups, fire halls and other charities. In the 1970s, gambling interests tried to expand gambling in Alabama with proposals such as video poker. These were based on electronic machines. The efforts failed, but it opened the door for conversion of these machines to electronic bingo gambling. Under the guise of the 18 amendments, charitable bingo expanded into real gambling. The certain knowledge of this was realized when Houston County in 2008 decided it had authority to open a casino. Following that, Etowah County proposed a casino and bingo gambling began to expand in other counties.

Law enforcement was having a difficult time contending with this and when there were no aggressive efforts to address the problem, Governor Riley set up a task force and charged former Jefferson County DA, David Barber, with the authority to bring a case to the Alabama Supreme Court to determine if this electronic bingo is legal. Prior to this time, we had been working on private efforts to bring such a case. Based on our research and investigation, we are confident of the success of Mr. Barber’s mission. Similarly, gambling interests in Alabama are confident of his success. Because of this, they introduced these bills to amend the Alabama Constitution to legalize what they know is illegal.

The bills convert charitable bingo to “for profit private” bingo in the Counties of Etowah, Greene, Houston, Macon, Mobile, Walker and Jefferson. These are venues with significant gambling enterprises in existence. Because the bills exempt these “points of destination,” a euphemism for casinos, from all constitutional, state and federal laws and court opinions, there would be no limitation on what kind of electronic gambling could take place.

The bills require any such casino to have a significant infrastructure; for Jefferson County, it would be $100 million. The bills also permit the casinos to share profits. These provisions are said to stop “predatory competition.” Actually, this establishes a monopoly. Legitimate charity bingo will go out of business.

The incentives for these bills is to provide funds for education and Medicaid. Studies show this is a regressive tax. The Legislature has authorized no study and they are not telling the people the truth.

The broad definition of gambling and its exemption from all laws means there will be no law enforcement of any description. Proponents say there will be a “gaming commission” to protect the public. The gaming commission is a seven member political patronage committee who have no substantive or discretionary powers. In other words, they have no authority to regulate. The Department of Revenue only has authority to collect the tax. Our criminal code would have no application to what the gambling monopoly is doing. There will be no regulation or oversight by any other agency.

As if these extreme provisions are not enough, the most deceptive provision of the bills is that the Legislature reserves to itself the right to “supplement” the amendment by later general or local laws. This means the Legislature, by mere statute, will be able to add to, that is, expand gambling further without authority of the people. Keep in mind these bills propose a constitutional amendment. As such, it would be the controlling law in the State of Alabama and we lose all control over gambling.

The proposed ballot language for the amendment will ask the people to vote on establishing bingo in the named counties. This deceives the voter and does not tell the voter that approval of this amendment is to make legal what is now illegal under our criminal laws. The “Sweet Home Alabama” radio ads and mailings are as deceptive as the bills. They say “Illegal gaming machines are sprouting up all across Alabama.” The supporters of the bills and ads are engaged in the very same unlawful activity as their scapegoats. They simply want to legalize what all are doing and put the other guys out of business.

If the Legislature truly wants people to vote on whether to legalize gambling, there should be a vote straight up and down on the question of gambling. Not a vote on this monopoly of unregulated, immoral, and illegal activity.

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