PCI responds to gaming bill

Published 10:32 pm Monday, April 9, 2007

By By Adam Prestridge
A recent bill to OK gambling machines at state dog tracks has Poarch Band of Creek Indian officials scratching their heads.
A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would legalize high-stakes electronic bingo games at greyhound dog tracks in Birmingham and Mobile. A release issued by Poarch Band of Creek Indians Thursday morning stated that any gambling operation in Alabama should be accountable to the state and it should benefit its citizens, which PCI officials said the bill in consideration is neither.
"The bill is supposed to be designed to limit gaming, but there is nothing in this bill that says that other counties can't come back and petition gaming in their county," Creek Indian Enterprises CFO Arthur Mothershed said Friday afternoon. "There is no mention of a gaming commission that would regulate this gaming or any mention of how the state could audit the gaming and make sure it gets its fair share. More importantly the Tribe has been waiting for 15 years with our plan to demonstrate how gaming can benefit the state and we've met nothing, but close doors. If they want to talk about gaming in the state and how it can benefit the state, they should talk to us."
Although several members spoke in favor of the bill, Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, has voiced his opposition fearing the negative impacts that could occur to his district, which include Escambia and Baldwin counties.
"I'm in opposition to the bill," Baker said Friday afternoon via cell phone. "I'm personally opposed to any extension of the gaming operations already existing in Alabama. Furthermore, I'm concerned about the negative impact this bill, if passed, would have on the Poarch Creek Indian business operations, which are federally regulated."
According to Mothershed, the bill offers no real provisions as to how the state is going to regulate the proposed gambling operation nor does it suggest how the state would pay to make sure the operation is well-regulated and that an accurate share of the profit that is supposed to go to the state coffers actually ends up there.
Baker said the House Tourism and Travel Committee approved the bill by voice vote. It now goes to the full House for debate. The bill is a constitutional amendment and would have to be approved in a statewide referendum if passed by the Legislature.
"Should the bill pass both Houses, it would go before the vote of the people statewide," Baker added.
According to published reports, the bill, by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, provides for 20 percent of gross revenue from the bingo games to be taxed with the tax revenue helping to fund Alabama's Medicaid program. The bill would also outlaw other types of electronic gaming machines.
"I think that the impact of this bill being passed would not only be negative for Poarch Creek Indian operations, but it could adversely impact the City of Atmore, particularly the Rivercane project," Baker said.
Mothershed encourages people who oppose the bill to contact their elected officials and let their opinion be heard.
"We encourage local residents to contact their local senator and representative to voice their opinion that they do not support this bill," he said.
As for Baker's take on how the vote, which could occur as early as Tuesday afternoon, will turn out, he's unsure.
"It's hard to get a gauge on any bills, but to speculate I do think this bill will be a bill that will have a very close vote," Baker said.

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