Many gaming bills have been published in Alabama law for the past 30+ years. Very few of these bills had a prayer of existence. There have been exactly zero bills that would expand state gaming, legalize casino gaming, and / or run a lottery.
One of many failed attempts came last year when the Poarch Band of Creek Indians offered the state a "billion dollar deal" that promised to make payments of $ 1 billion to Alabama first, and then make annual payments for a plan to do so have essentially given the tribe a monopoly and immediately closed all other venues.
"A billion dollars – we thought that was a pretty fair deal, offering a billion dollars," said Arthur Mothershed, vice president of development and government relations at Wind Creek Gaming, with a chuckle. "It didn't get any attraction in legislation."
Jay Dorris, CEO of Mothershed and Wind Creek, joined David Johnston, longtime attorney for VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast to highlight the state's latest attempt to legislate on gambling, to be discussed in detail.
The main reason the Poarch Creeks 'proposal failed last year was because it was severely pushed back by lawmakers representing areas of the state where current dog tracks that operate electronic bingo machines and other forms of gaming are currently providing taxpayers' money and jobs very poor communities. Combine your opposition with lawmakers who, despite everything – a dwindling but still strong number – are firmly against gambling, and the chances of passing gambling laws, particularly through the Alabama House of Representatives, become nigh on impossible.
So tribal leaders and track owners have tried something they have never tried before: compromise.
The informal chats started a little over a year ago. Just kidding, sharing ideas, seeing what might work, making suggestions and changes. A great idea was slowly taking shape.
The tribe could get a full game in all three locations and a new location in the northeast of the state. He would also keep control of the Mobile Greyhound Park, which would also be allowed to run a full casino. The tracks – VictoryLand, the Birmingham Race Course and GreeneTrack – would also be able to run full casinos.
"What we tried didn't work," said Dorris. “At some point it just made sense to start over and try something different. (The tracks) tried things, we tried things, and nothing got through the legislation. "
Mothershed added, "(Legislator) said to sit down and talk to the other operators and we did. We found that – something we can live with, something they can live with. It is not a big fight between us all. We made it. "
The result of the compromise, of course, was at least the skeleton of the law introduced in the Senate two weeks ago by Senator Del Marsh, R-Anniston. In addition to the full games at the eight aforementioned locations, there will be sports betting and a nationwide lottery at all locations.
"We think this is an excellent bill and one that is honestly hard to criticize," said Johnston, who has represented VictoryLand since it opened in 1983. Marsh's bill treats everyone fairly and that's all we've ever asked. "
Not everyone agrees. Attack reports surfaced in various media late last week, and lobbyists emailed reporters to criticize the bill. Most of this effort has been paid for by small electronic bingo operators in Greene County and by parties outside of the state.
In previous gambling expansion efforts, Mississippi casino owners tossed huge sums of money into Alabama to try to stop the legislation. It worked every time.
This time, however, it feels different from Johnston.
"I just think people in this state are fed up with seeing their tax dollars go to other states, and they've made up their minds about it," said Johnston. "I think people's attitudes on this matter are very different from what they have been in the past, and I would predict that more than 70 percent would vote for this legislation if we put it to the vote."
To support this theory, the attack ads do not take into account the moral or ethical issues associated with gambling. Instead, these attacks claim that the McGregor family, who own a controlling interest in VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, plan to sell to Poarch Creeks after the deal is closed, giving the tribe a gaming monopoly in the state.
"That doesn't make sense because the tribe already has a monopoly in the state," said Johnston. "Milton McGregor had owned VictoryLand since 1983 and the Birmingham Race Course since 1992, and before he died he had his son-in-law Lewis Benefield prepared for the takeover and he did an amazing job." The McGregors could have sold out many times over the years. They had the offers to do so. You never have and that's not the mindset now. "
You can listen to more of these interviews on the Alabama Politics This Week website, or subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, or anywhere you can get your podcasts.