Bedford to introduce 'simple' bingo bill

By Staff
Jonathan Willis
MONTGOMERY – Gov. Bob Riley is urging state lawmakers to reject a new gambling bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford.
A new gambling proposal sponsored by Bedford is a “blank check” that lets the Legislature decide by a simple majority vote how many casinos will be allowed in Alabama and where they will be located, Riley said.
“I said the first gambling bill they proposed was the most corrupt piece of legislation I’d ever seen. I was wrong. They were able to come up with one that’s even worse,” Riley said.
A previous bill proposed by Bedford that would have taxed and regulated electronic bingo failed in the Senate earlier this month. Bedford said this week that he was introducing a new “simple” bill before the session ends in two weeks.
Bedford sliced his proposed constitutional amendment from 43 pages to eight pages because critics complained the original was too complicated.
He has taken out many of the details that were in the original, including specifying 10 locations for casinos and providing immunity for those currently operating electronic bingo. In the new version, many of the details would be worked out later by the Legislature that is elected in November.
“The new substitute bill, referred to as the ‘Simple Bingo Bill,’ is a clear-cut piece of legislation that does just that,” Bedford said.
Bedford and others are pushing a bingo bill to resolve the court battle between casino operators who say their games are updated versions of traditional bingo and Gov. Bob Riley, who says they are illegal slot machines. The issue also has provided an opportunity for proponents to try to levy a state tax on the games to help ease state budget woes.
Bedford’s original bill stalled in the Senate on March 3 when he fell three votes short of the number needed to begin full debate on the measure.
“This isn’t the so-called ‘simple’ bill its supporters claim. It’s nothing but a blank check for the Legislature,” Riley said.
“It allows an unlimited number of casinos and lets legislators decide where they will go. Could they decide to put a casino across from your child’s school? Down the road from your church? If they win this vote, it would be up to them. That’s downright scary.”
Bedford’s Simple bill would remove all legal questions about whether Alabama’s bingo laws allow electronic games and would set a minimum tax of 25 percent of the revenue left after casino operators pay winners. There is currently no state tax on bingo.
The bill would also establish a five-member State Gaming Commission appointed by the governor, attorney general, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and chief justice. Alabama does not have a gaming commission now.
The bill would allow electronic bingo games that operate with one push of a button. Many games now use multiple button pushes to try to comply with court guidelines for bingo, but casino operators say customers complain that makes the machines too slow.
To take effect, Bedford’s bill would have to win approval in the Senate and House before the legislative session ends in April and then be ratified by Alabama voters in the general election Nov. 2. If that happens, the legislation specifies that the Legislature would meet in special session in January to work out the other details. Those details, including locations, would not require another statewide referendum.
Although the bill calls for a state gambling commission to license casinos at various locations throughout the state, the bill requires the commission to do so in accordance with laws passed by the Legislature on a simple majority vote, Riley said.
Under this proposal, a simple majority of the Legislature would be in charge of casino locations. A bill could be passed on a simple majority vote, rather than the three-fifths vote required for Constitutional amendments.
Riley said he also opposes the bill for a number of other reasons.
He claims the bill would legalize slot machines for the first time in the state’s history and would allow gambling interests to launder money for campaign contributions.
“There will be no limits to the amount of corruption we’ll see if this bill is approved,” Riley said.

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