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Governor’s wrong on gaming

By By Ronnie Gilley-Sweet Home Alabama Coalition, Guest Columnist
The people of Alabama should have the choice whether electronic bingo should be regulated and taxed. Electronic bingo already exists in our state. The state Attorney General has ruled that it is legal. Tens of thousands of Alabama citizens have voiced their support for the “Sweet Home Alabama Plan,” a measure that will strictly regulate bingo operations and annually generate hundreds of millions of new tax dollars for our state. These tax dollars would be used to improve our schools, hire additional teachers and provide better healthcare for our uninsured children and senior citizens. The choice should be ours to make.
However, Gov. Bob Riley and the Mississippi casino bosses know that “We the People” are capable of making this decision for ourselves and that the citizens of this state overwhelming support the Sweet Home Alabama Plan. Accordingly, the Governor, under their influence, has initiated a perverted campaign to deny the eople the right to vote. While the Governor continues to brush off allegations of such influence, a recent editorial in the Birmingham News said, “Riley got at least a half million dollars during his 2002 gubernatorial race that surely looks like it came from a lobbyist for Indian casinos.” It appears that the Choctaws in Mississippi were protecting their investments by trying to influence Alabama politics.
Governor Riley claims that the Sweet Home Alabama Plan will create a monopoly for gaming operators in Alabama. This is just another lie in his campaign to deny the people the right to vote. Clearly, a monopoly does not exist where 14 points of destination compete in the open market for entertainment dollars against each other. Additionally, the plan provides a method for other counties to adopt electronic bingo in the future if they so choose. However, should the Governor’s tainted efforts to abuse his office, deny the people the right to vote, limit free speech and unlawfully enter and seize property, lead to the elimination of charitable electronic bingo, he will be guilty of creating a monopoly for the Poarch Creek Indians and their three Alabama Casinos which are exempt from tate and local taxes.
Governor Riley continues his campaign of lies in a newspaper article he authored by suggesting tax rates under the Sweet Home Alabama Plan will be the lowest in the nation. First, Alabama currently has the lowest gaming tax rate in the nation – 0%. Second, the 20% tax rate in the Sweet Home Alabama Plan is more than double the state gaming tax imposed by the three largest gaming states of Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi.
The Governor also ignores the fact that we are completely surrounded by gambling states that are profiting off the backs of Alabamians. States like Tennessee and Georgia are paying college tuitions for thousands of students off the proceeds of regulated gaming. How many more out-of-state scholarships are we going to fund before we turn our attention back to the needs of our students here in Alabama?
The Governor rejects the significant economic development potential of the Sweet Home Alabama Plan while using the same economic models to promote the benefits of other tourism enterprises in reports published by a state agency.
The Sweet Home Alabama Plan creates tens of thousands of jobs, 14 tourist destinations across our state and will generate much needed tax revenues to support our struggling local economies.
My new development, Country Crossing, in southeast Alabama, will look like Mayberry USA, nothing like Las Vegas, but it will be an entertainment extravaganza. It will include celebrity themed venues like George Jones Possum Holler Dinner Theater and Museum; Darryl Worley’s Worleybird Caf/ and other venues by Tracy Lawrence, John Anderson and Lorrie Morgan. There will be an amphitheater concert series that will feature artists like Clint Black, Aaron Tippin and Marty Stewart. Of course there will be many shops, hotels and restaurants. You might even find yourself eating a steak next to the likes of Randy Owen. Later phases will include a family entertainment center and a water park.
I was born and raised in Alabama. My interest is in the entertainment industry, not bingo. But bingo can be the catalyst to make Alabama an entertainment destination.
A few years ago, Gov. Riley had no problem asking the citizens of Alabama to vote on the biggest tax increase in Alabama history and the Alabama legislature voted overwhelmingly to “let the people vote” on that measure.
So why is Gov. Riley working so hard to prevent the people of Alabama from voting on the Sweet Home Alabama Plan? Is it politics or ego?
I believe it’s both. Call your state lawmakers and tell them to “let the people vote.”
Ronnie Gilley is president and CEO of Country Crossing and a member of Sweet Home Alabama Coalition.