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The Wind Creek casino in Atmore is the Poarch Band’s flagship property

“We’re making money hand-over-fist.” —Eddie Tullis, Treasurer and former Chairman, Poarch Band

Alabama Senate President Del Marsh

antee Class III gaming and future statewide exclusivity to operate casinos. Legislators have threatened to legalize slot machines at three parimutuel greyhound tracks—two of which currently offer live racing—creating competition for the tribal casinos. The band also would like to appease customers seeking table games and Las Vegas-style slot machines. But efforts to negotiate a compact have been rebuffed by Governor Robert Bentley. Bentley is not an anti-gambling zealot, as was the case with his predecessor, Bob Riley. But Bentley doesn’t regard Poarch Creek’s willingness to share casino revenues as a long-term solution to alleviate a budget deficit approaching $500 million. The band has offered a $250 million up-front payment and an annual share of casino revenues to help with state finances. “Alabama has problems our tribe wants to help fix, once and for all,” says tribal Chairwoman Stephanie Bryan. “We know what it’s like not to have enough when you need it,” she says of the tribe’s impoverished history prior to launching a high-stakes bingo hall in 1983. Bentley is not impressed with the offer. “Gambling is not going to solve this problem,” he said in an April speech. “It does not create enough money.” Bentley advocates raising cigarette and automobile sales tax from 2 percent to 3 percent, a move he says would generate some $541 million a year. “The way I have designed it, this would solve the problem for years to come,” he says. Bentley may be averse to gambling as a means of balancing the budget, but legislators have in the past two years been floating bills to legalize lotteries and slot machines at the state’s three dog tracks. They have also discussed entering into a tribal-state compact with Poarch Creek. None of the legislation has succeeded. There are two gambling bills pending this session in the Senate Committee on Tourism and Marketing, one mentioning a tribal-state compact with the Poarch Band. But neither is expected to generate the needed support for a floor vote. “People don’t mind gambling. They pack the casinos,” says a tribal member who requested anonymity. “But legislators use the fact this is the Bible Belt as an excuse to be moralistic about the issue.” Republican Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh introduced a gambling bill last year, which called for a lottery and commercial casinos while suggesting

the government negotiate a compact with Poarch Creek. But the band would not view a bill with no statewide monopoly for the tribe as an attractive opportunity. “At this point, the legislature is more comfortable with a lottery,” says Will Caliss, Marsh’s communications director. “I don’t know that it translates to a majority of members. But at this point they’re more comfortable with a lottery as opposed to Class III gaming. “Senator Marsh feels that giving a monopoly to Poarch Creek would be a mistake. If you open up gaming to the tracks, the economic impact would be much greater with the job creation, in part through the development of hotels that would accompany the gambling.”

Change With Strange When Bentley and Strange took office in 2000, state lawmakers were trying to come to grips not only with tribal casinos, but an unregulated commercial bingo machine industry centered at VictoryLand, a Macon County casino and dog track. The track casino, operated by politically influential entrepreneur Milton McGregor, was shut down in a 2013 raid in which state agents seized 1,615 slot machines and $263,105 in cash. Legal efforts to reopen the facility are pending before the state Supreme Court, complicated by a Bentley executive order in January delegating gambling enforcement to local jurisdictions. McGregor’s track casino has a lot of supporters, including Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson. “Enough is enough. We’ve been putting up with this for far too long, and we’re tired of being mistreated here in Macon County,” Brunson told the Associated Press. “The people in this county voted for electronic bingo. It’s legal here. We are suffering without that casino being open, with so many people in this county out of work. “We are going to stand our ground here in Macon. I have every intention of protecting the rights and wellbeing of this county’s citizens. I’m not threatening anybody when I say this, but whatever we have to do, that’s what we’ll do.” Meanwhile, Strange’s efforts to close the Poarch Creek casinos apparently APRIL 2016 www.ggbmagazine.com

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Profile for Global Gaming Business

Global Gaming Business, April 2016  

The casino gaming industries most respected and important international trade journal. Official publication of the American Gaming Associati...

Global Gaming Business, April 2016  

The casino gaming industries most respected and important international trade journal. Official publication of the American Gaming Associati...