It’s time to settle gaming debate once and for all

By Staff
Johnny Mack Morrow
Columnist
The attempted raids by the governor’s gaming task force over the past weeks looks more and more like some sort of strange revenge movie rather than law enforcement.
Massing state troopers in the middle of the night, early morning court injunctions and stays, lawyers standing in doorways, moving trucks coming in, and then everyone leaves and it goes away until the whole show comes back. It is, for lack of a better word, crazy.
It is also dangerous, costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands, and making a mockery of how law enforcement and the laws of the state are supposed to work. It is threatening the jobs of thousands while there is often no other employment.
Worst of all, it gets us no closer to the fundamental legal questions about electronic bingo. It is time the showboating and the personal settling of scores stop, before someone gets hurt and irreparable harm happens.
It is already doing great harm to the state.
We’ve had a well respected man who led the governor’s task force found in a Mississippi Native American casino winning thousands and resign in disgrace. We have seen a plane circling above the Rose Bowl calling for the impeachment of Riley to the embarrassment of us all.
We see local sheriffs confronting state officials. We see men taken away from keeping our roads safe so they can stand in parking lots all morning long.
Moreover, under what authority does the governor take these actions, constitutionally or otherwise?
He is not elected as a law enforcement officer. We elect the Attorney General for that purpose.
Another embarrassing sideshow is the personal, as well as professional, conflict between the Riley and King. The name calling and innuendo, the charges of the governor taking Mississippi money during his gubernatorial campaigns and the contributions the Attorney General has from gaming interests doesn’t befit the offices they hold, but it is just par for the course in this sad sideshow.
The damage to the state, and the horrible precedents being set, indicate one thing: enough!
There are only two venues where the controversy over electronic bingo and gambling in this state can be solved: in the courts and in the ballot box.
The fact is, there have already been votes on whether people want electronic bingo. For a major resort like Victoryland in Shorter there has been more than one vote.
These are constitutional amendments approved by the people, and in a place like Macon County where the resort is the county’s largest employer, there is still vigorous local support.
When there is a conflict over what laws and constitutional amendments mean and how they are to be applied, the proper venue is the courts, not with hundreds of state troopers. The courts have already made some rulings on electronic bingo, and one of those the governor uses as the fig leaf for his actions.
It is clear there is confusion at all levels of the judiciary on this question.
That is the reason why the final arbiter for electronic bingo in Alabama must be the ballot box. A vote by the people on what they want is the only final solution to what is and is not allowed in bingo facilities across the state.
The people can decide whether we are going to tax and regulate bingo, or we are going to remove it.
One side note, even if the citizens of Alabama decide to eliminate all bingo in a vote, it will not be the end of gaming in the state. The Alabama Poarch Creek Indians have a huge gaming resort in Atmore, and two others in Montgomery and Wetumpka. They are covered under federal law.
Gaming, in one fashion or form, will be here now and in the future.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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