So if the state does decide to sign a “compact” with the Poarch Creek Indians essentially giving them a monopoly on gaming in Alabama, what’s that going to mean for Mobile? Or for the state as a whole?
Frankly it’s hard to imagine it being a great deal for either.
The Great Alabama Financial Crisis of 2015 has our leaders contemplating all manner of out-of-character methods to plug what’s been labeled a $280 million budget gap. And signing a compact with the Creeks is one of the biggest dishes on the dinner table at this point.
It indeed seems odd a state with such a bizarre relationship with legalized gambling finds itself contemplating this “sinful” activity as its financial savior, but we all know it gets tense when the bank account is low. As the late, great philosopher Notorious B.I.G once opined, “Mo money, mo problems.” Biggy certainly had a point, but judging from what’s happening in Montgomery, “no money” brings its own set of tragedies as well.
The governor and the Legislature are scrambling to deal with the budget shortfall, and it’s gotten them all a little crazy. Suddenly hard-core Republicans are proposing tax increases and talking about making deals to allow more gambling across the state. Who’d of thunk it?
A governor who ran on the promise of no new taxes and legislators who for years have railed against gambling as a budgetary salve are both eating their words like a $25 bucket of popcorn at a Saturday matinee. Add some extra fake butter while you’re at it — makes things go down easier.
Gov. Bentley’s proposal to increase taxes by more than $500 million is bound to run into big trouble because in Alabama tax increases are just slightly less popular than the University of Tennessee’s football team. Senate Leader Del Marsh has his own gambling/lottery plan he says will generate around $400 million a year, but that legislation is crawling across the desert bound for a painful, dehydrated death, it seems.
So back to the central question — Dr. Governor and some in the Legislature seem at least somewhat amenable to the idea of offering the Creeks a compact for $250 million this year and a percentage of the action in the future, but is this a good deal? While it does provide immediate relief, giving the Creeks a monopoly on gaming doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, particularly for Mobile.
When Sen. Del Marsh’s plan to open casinos at the state’s four dog tracks came up, the Creeks were quick to point out that since they own the Mobile track, they wouldn’t allow Class III (tables) gaming there anyway because it would siphon business from their Wind Creek Resort in Atmore. So it seems obvious Mobile would always be caught between the tribe’s interests in Atmore and Theodore.
While I do understand the tribe has invested large amounts in their resorts around the state, it doesn’t make any sense to cut a quick deal that has the potential to box out what could be a very lucrative industry down the road.
Every time I write about allowing gambling in Alabama, people respond and claim gaming is actually a losing or break-even proposition, that it hurts the poor or causes more divorces, alcoholism, gingivitis, etc. Those are the same kinds of arguments always used to fight “sinful” industries, but in the end, they come up flat. The state has no problem being in the liquor business, for instance. I dare say alcohol may be a more chronic and widespread social problem than gambling, but I’ll bet nobody’s in a rush to get rid of the revenue those ABC stores bring.
And if anyone wants to be completely realistic, gambling is already all over Alabama — online. Anybody with an Internet connection and a computer can bet his or her week’s salary away in the comfort of their soon-to-be-foreclosed-upon home online any time of day or night. And it’s happening all the time, but no taxes are going into the state’s coffers.
I’d imagine half the men I know routinely bet on sporting events even though it’s not legal. Finding a bookie in Mobile is easier than finding a really good hamburger. No taxes to the state there either.
So what’s the point of taking some kind of lukewarm, heavy petting approach to gambling as if because it’s run by the Creeks it’s not a sin? If you think gambling is a sin, isn’t it still a sin on Indian land? Isn’t gambling still gambling whether you call it electronic bingo or video poker? We’re playing a lot of silly games with ourselves and semantics here.
For the past three years the taxes collected from gaming in Mississippi, according to its Department of Revenue, averaged more than $250 million. Total revenues from their casinos average close to $3 billion a year and they employ thousands. People in the Magnolia State stopped having heart palpitations about “sin” 20 years ago and learned to embrace it.
The Creeks’ casinos in Alabama generate about $300 million a year, so even if the state got 10 percent of that action annually, we’re still talking about making around a tenth of what they do in Mississippi and blocking free trade and outside investment at the same time.
It’s interesting to consider what a big casino in downtown Mobile or in Gulf Shores might do for state coffers as well as the local economies.
Alabama’s politicians and electorate don’t have the belly for changing the way we’re taxed, so it’s pretty obvious we’re going to have to find other means of revenue. Over the past 20 years the state has landed factory after factory, high-tech jobs have come and tourism has improved, yet we’re still broke.
Maybe it’s because we always give away the farm.