New gaming laws proposed

Published 9:41 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2006

By By Michele Gerlach
Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Troy King Tuesday announced proposed gambling legislation that, if passed, would greatly impact gaming facilities across the state. However, neither the attorney general nor the governor's office could say for sure if the proposed laws would affect gaming facilities currently operated by the Poarch Creek Indians in Atmore and Wetumpka.
In a press conference Tuesday, Riley and King proposed legislation "to take the profit out of illegal gambling, to close the legal loopholes that allow gambling facilities to operate a sweepstakes, to end electronic bingo, and to comprehensively overhaul and tighten constitutional provisions regarding lotteries and bingo in Alabama."
In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, King said the state is long overdue for a comprehensive reform of gaming laws.
"What we have is a patchwork of laws," King said. "Any time you have patchwork, you have space in between. That's where you have questions."
While Indian gaming is governed by the federal Indian Gaming Commission, tribes must also follow state laws or have a compact with the state allowing them to operate gaming facilities not otherwise allowed by state law. For years, the Atmore-based Creek tribe has attempted to get such a compact with the state, allowing them to expand their gaming operations.
Currently, the tribe is putting the finishing touches on a 20,000 square foot expansion to their existing facility in Atmore that will include 592 additional electronic bingo machines. Tribal gaming officials had no comment on the proposals Tuesday.
The National Indian Gaming Commission's web site states that Class II gaming "is defined as the game of chance commonly known as bingo (whether or not electronic, computer, or other technological aids are used in connection therewith) and if played in the same location as the bingo, pull tabs, punch board, tip jars, instant bingo, and other games similar to bingo … The Act specifically excludes slot machines or electronic facsimiles of any game of chance from the definition of class II games. Tribes retain their authority to conduct, license, and regulate class II gaming so long as the state in which the Tribe is located permits such gaming for any purpose and the Tribal government adopts a gaming ordinance approved by the Commission."
King said states do not have the jurisdiction to legislate tribal gaming.
"The intersection is that the federal act ties what they can do to what the state allows," he said.
Because Alabama's gaming laws are outdated, he said, the Poarch Creeks can get permission from the federal government to operate electronic bingo machines because the state is allowing this to occur (in other places)."
King said the language that allows electronic bingo at Victoryland and Greentrack, dog tracks operated by Milton McGregor, is modeled on Indian gaming regulations.
"I'm not sure if we say to take this off the dog tracks it necessarily would affect them," King said.
"Technology is advancing so quickly that you can take machines playing one game (bingo) and simulate other types of games," he said.
He said Alabama is long overdue for the proposed reforms.
"Everywhere I go, I hear people talk about this," he said. "They say they are tired of people manipulating the law. Now we have an opportunity to do something about this."
David Ford of the governor's press office said he was unsure how the proposed legislation would affect the Indian gaming operation in the state.
"The governor said in his state of the state address that it was time for the Legislature to take action to clearly define what is and what is not gaming in Alabama," Ford said.
In his press conference Tuesday, the governor said, "If it looks like a slot machine and sounds like a lot machine, ladies and gentlemen, to me it is a slot machine," Riley said.
The legislative package proposed by Riley and King includes a Civil Recovery for Illegal Gambling Activity bill, and a set of Constitutional amendments to Section 65 of the Constitution of Alabama, which currently prohibits lotteries, and would be expanded to include any other games of chance, defined as one where the player has the ability to win a prize upon payment of a consideration.
The Civil Recovery bill sets penalties for those who "own, operate, possess, lease or have an indirect or direct financial interest in the operation of, a gambling device."
The Civil Recovery bill would need only legislative approve to become law; the Constitutional amendments, require both a three-fifths vote of the Legislature and the approval of Alabama voters.
The proposal would c lose the loophole in Alabama's sweepstakes law that allowed McGregor to create an electronic sweepstakes at his Birmingham track, and would outlaw electronic bingo in Macon and Greene counties.
Sen. Pat Lindsey (D-Butler), who represents Escambia County in the state Senate, told the Associated Press Tuesday afternoon he expects the legislation to have a hard time passing the Legislature.

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