Where senate candidates stand on gaming

Published 10:04 pm Monday, April 6, 2009

By By Tray Smith
The opening of Wind Creek Hotel and Casino has moved gambling to the forefront of the political agenda in South Alabama. While the electronic slot machines currently in the casino are allowed by federal law and not regulated by the state government, the state’s approval is essential for the Tribe to be able to offer Class III gaming, such as card games.
The most likely method of legalizing such gaming would be a compact between the state and the Tribe, which would allow the Tribe to offer Class III games as long as it in turn shared revenue with the state. A compact is also the only way the state can receive revenue from the Tribe’s operation, since the current slot machines are not vulnerable to state taxes.
With the primary for the special election to fill the seat vacated by former State Senator Pat Lindsey, who died in January, scheduled for next Tuesday, voters interested in the gaming issue will soon have a chance to support candidates representing their position. Whoever ultimately replaces Lindsey will not only have to vote on approving a compact if it comes into the legislature, but will also have a position to either advance the Tribe’s interest or try to suppress the expansion of gambling in Atmore.
Judy Belk, who ran twice against Congressman Jo Bonner as a Democrat but is now running for the State Senate as a Republican, says she does not favor expanding gambling in south Alabama. “As long as its there we ought to be able to tax it,” she said, “but if it is not already there we do not need to expand gaming in South Alabama.” It is not clear how she would try to tax gambling revenue from machines that are currently immune from state taxation.
Greg Albritton, a former member of the state House of Representatives now running for the Senate seat against Belk in the Republican primary, also says he opposes expanding gaming in South Alabama. “I feel like it would just make the state dependent on that revenue source,” he said. While money from a compact would initially boost state coffers, it would eventually just be absorbed into the state’s budget baseline, Albritton said. “Its not a good idea to become dependent on a tax you have to negotiate, rather than a tax you have control over,” he added. He also said there were many other issues with gambling that he was against.
The third Republican in the race, Danny B. Joyner of Brewton, said he is very supportive of the Tribe and their efforts. He said a specific compact must come from the governor, and should that happen he would review it carefully. “I will support anything that allows Poarch to increase the jobs they are offering. They have just hired over 700 people in our community in a time of economic distress nation wide,” Joyner said. He added that while he supports all of the Tribe’s endeavors, the entire operation is not about gambling. “They also have a family restaurant, Creek Indian Enterprises, and Muskogee Metalworks, just to name a few. They are partners in our community and have done a lot for the area. I support any legal plans for expanding their operation.”
Belk, Joyner, and Albritton will all face off in the Republican primary. One must gain over fifty percent of the ballot in order to avoid a runoff. If a runoff must occur, it will be held in June. If not, the general election between the Republican candidate and Democrat Marc Keahey will be held at that time. Keahey is sure to advance to the general election because he is not being challenged in the primary and thus has no opponent on next Tuesday’s ballot. He could not be reached for comment before the publication of this article.
Tray Smith is a former page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at tsmith_90@hotmail.com. His column appears weekly.

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