On Wednesday morning, legislative committees approved bills geared toward providing two state casinos with a stronger legal shield.
Sponsored by Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, and Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis, the bills would once and for all clarify that VictoryLand in Macon County and Greenetrack in Greene County would be within the law to operate electronic bingo machines; the center of the battle over gambling that has raged on in Alabama for over six years. Under the Greenetrack bill, a newly formed gaming commission would oversee casinos, regulate gambling in the county and provide for Greenetrack revenue distribution.
The bill’s supporters said they wanted to provide protection to industries in areas that typically have difficulty attracting jobs. On Wednesday morning, McCampbell told the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee that he also wanted to codify Gov. Robert Bentley’s executive order, issued in November, stripping the AG’s office of its authority to enforce gambling laws and giving that authority to local officials.
The move, combined with Attorney General Luther Strange’s memo in January 2015 echoing Bentley’s policy, was an indication that the state would be backing away from its attempts to drive the casinos out of business. However, McCampbell said, “The governor has now said he’s going to abide by the law as it is written, but he only has three years left. So we want to ensure the only industry in Greene County isn’t shut down,” as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser.
The bills are also partial responses to the use of electronic bingo by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. A federal law allows the Poarch Band to operate Class II games, including bingo, without a state gaming compact. The tribe operates casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka.
Beasley’s legislation, which on Wednesday was passed by the committee in under 45 seconds, would “confirm” that bingo “may be played on any electronic machine or electronic device authorized by the National Indian Gaming Commission pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act . . . and which is operated by any Native American tribe in Alabama,” directly affecting VictoryLand in Macon County.
Beasley said the existing amendment allowing bingo in Macon County would be strengthened by the bill and that it was needed in order to help the area recover from VictoryLand’s closing, which has yet to reopen. He said area communities were deprived of over 2,000 jobs and it has had a devastating effect on Macon County.
The full House will now consider McCampbell’s bill. If approved by legislators, the measure would be decided by voters in Greene County in the fall. If passed by the Legislator, Beasley’s bill would need Bentley’s signature.
In February, Tuskegee’s Mayor Johnny Ford said the reason VictoryLand hasn’t opened yet despite Bentley’s executive order is that AG Strange is conspiring with the Poarch Band and that everyone in the small community of Montgomery, Alabama is aware that the tribe made money available to Strange for financial support for his run for governor. Ford claimed that Strange is pressuring vending companies to prevent them from providing electronic bingo machines to VictoryLand in exchange for supporting him financially during his campaign for the state’s highest office.