Riley pushes himself into electronic bingo debate
Published 11:26 pm Wednesday, November 18, 2009
By By Steve Flowers
While we have been strolling down memory lane reminiscing about our past Governor’s races, the ever-present electronic bingo issue has been percolating around the Goat Hill scene. As always, our current governor, Bob Riley, has engrossed himself into the issue.
Riley’s obsessive involvement with the gambling quagmire borders on compulsive irrationality. His usual reasonable behavior and demeanor of governing is thrown out the window when it comes to gaming. It is a parody that evades reason or understanding. His ubiquitous obsession and animosity towards this entertainment industry makes him look like an obsessed adolescent.
It would appear that his compulsive crusade is being driven by the fact that he received enormous amounts of campaign cash from the Mississippi Indian gambling interests for his gubernatorial campaign, which is recently been confirmed by former cabinet member Bill Johnson. Many suggest he is simply paying back a debt to the Mississippi Indian casinos by defending their federally protected gambling monopoly. However, his mission appears deeper than simply campaign money and politics because his stance is not politically popular.
The vast majority of Alabamians could not care less who plays electronic bingo or where. Poll after poll indicates that Alabamians would overwhelmingly approve of a lottery and certainly do not disapprove of certain locales in the state choosing to allow bingo. Even in conservative Houston County, most favor bingo at the new Country Crossings entertainment center. They seem to like the idea of an expansive Branson-like park luring jobs and patrons to their community.
Riley, in his zeal to immerse himself into a meaningless brawl, jumped on a recent ruling handed down by his cousin, Judge Lynwood Smith. Judge Smith’s ruling outlawing bingo in rural Madison County clearly affected only that community.
The case, which involves gaming in the town of Triana, only relates to a local constitutional amendment. This constitutional amendment was flawed. It is one of 16 in the state. The Court’s opinion limited itself solely to the constitutional amendment permitting bingo in Madison County.
However, Riley latched on to his cousin’s opinion and disingenuously declared the decision to be a definitive court ruling affecting the entire state. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every legal expert in the United States has declared that constitutional amendments in certain enclaves in the state are clearly constitutional. For example, the Macon County constitutional amendment, which authorizes the crown jewel of legal gaming in the state at Victoryland, is impregnable and above legal reproach. Even Riley knows he is barking at the moon to challenge the legality of the constitutional amendment surrounding Victoryland. It has not only been legitimately upheld by legal experts but was also approved by 76 percent of the voters.
Legislative contract review records reveal that Riley has paid his son-in-law’s law firm, Bradley Arant, $650,000 in state funds to research the issue. Their opinion, much to the chagrin of Riley, was that electronic bingo in at least Macon County is clearly legal. Bradley Arant, one of the most prestigious law firms in the state, advised creditors and bank interests that the only two ways of reversing or negating the constitutional amendment authorizing the gaming in Macon County would be to adopt a new constitutional amendment or for the state to adopt a completely new constitution. Neither of these is likely to happen. Macon County’s Victoryland is obviously a safe legal bastion for electronic bingo.
What about the other 15 locations throughout the state? Country Crossings appears to be written and approved properly. However, this did not stop Riley’s staff from writing a letter to the Nevada company that was shipping the new machines to Houston County informing the company that they should not sell the machines to Country Crossings because gaming machines were illegal in Alabama. Riley’s Don Quixote approach of tilting at windmills and obsessively demagoging this issue has been ridiculed by legal experts as well as the Christian Coalition of Alabama.
The Christian Coalition leader, Dr. Randy Brinson, has called for a rational approach to this dilemma. His position is that the only remedy to the proliferation of gambling in Alabama is a statewide referendum that clarifies, regulates, limits and taxes gaming in the state. This issue will be at the forefront of legislative issues that will be addressed in the upcoming election year legislative session. This bingo issue is a tempest in a teapot that will land like a boiling pot in a legislative beehive.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.