Bingo bill causing much state debate

Published 1:33 pm Wednesday, April 7, 2010

By By Kerry Whipple Bean
With the state House of Representatives gearing up for debate on bingo legislation, the pressure is on lawmakers around the state as they consider how to vote on the issue.
Two groups — Citizens for a Better Alabama, which is against the legislation, and the Let Us Vote Coalition, which is for it — have purchased advertising in newspapers around the state to ask residents to contact their local lawmakers.
Two ads appear in today’s Atmore Advance.
The ad asks residents to call Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Bay Minette, about the issue.
That ad asks residents to call Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, about the bill.
Baker and Shiver could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The House could debate the issue as soon as Thursday. The Senate passed the bill by a 21-16 vote last week. Because the bill calls for a referendum on the November ballot, it does not have to be signed by Gov. Bob Riley, who opposes the legislation. The referendum would ask voters to approve an amendment that would regulate and tax electronic bingo, although some of the details of the regulation and the percentage of taxation would be decided by the Legislature at a later date.
Shortly after the Senate passed the proposal, the FBI met with legislative leaders to tell them it had opened an investigation into alleged corruption surrounding the bill.
Escambia Baptist Association leader Pat Andrews said Tuesday he was not surprised by the allegations of corruption.
Andrews said the legislation is not needed because the state Supreme Court has already stated that electronic bingo is illegal.
Andrews also said he does not believe promises that gaming revenue would benefit education.
Supporters of the bill have said they believe the FBI investigation is politically motivated, with the timing designed to discourage House lawmakers from supporting the legislation.
Riley has denied any involvement in the federal probe. He issued a statement Tuesday urging House members to vote against the bill.
Some recent polls have shown that a majority of Alabama residents want the chance to vote on the legality of electronic bingo. A March 30 poll of 760 voters by Capital Survey Research Center showed that 69 percent support allowing, regulating and taxing gaming; 81 percent support allowing voters to decide whether the state should allow, regulate and tax bingo; and 62 percent oppose amending the state constitution to ban all gambling in the state, including dog tracks, bingo machines, charity bingo, raffles, sports betting, lotteries and all other forms of gambling.
Those on opposite sides of the issue disagree on whether the Supreme Court has decided the issue.
While bingo legislation has been proposed in recent years, this year the debate was intensified by raids on electronic bingo facilities by Riley’s gambling task force, led by Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. Those raids temporarily shut down gaming facilities in Montgomery and Dothan.

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