As lobbyists continue to pitch gambling proposals to the legislature, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has created a study group on gambling policy that includes three members with ties to Mobile County.
Sheriff Sam Cochran will join former Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin of Bayou La Batre, former Alabama Commissioner of Insurance Walter Bell and nine others in an effort to explore the possible impacts various types of gambling might have on a state that historically outlawed nearly all of them.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), which operates limited forms of gaming on its tribal properties in Alabama, proposed a compact with the state last year that would generate millions in new revenue in exchange for exclusive gambling rights and an expansion of the the types of gambling it can offer.
In her State of the State Address earlier this month, Ivey seemed to throw ice on the growing momentum behind that idea when she asked the legislature to hold off on passing any kind of gaming legislation until the state could “get all the facts.” The group she created last week is how the governor aims to do that.
“I am committed to, once and for all, getting the facts so that the people of Alabama can make an informed decision on what has been a hotly debated topic for many years,” Ivey said in a statement on Feb. 14. “Without a doubt, there will be ramifications if we eventually expand gaming options in our state just as there are costs associated with doing nothing.”
The study group is made up of 12 individuals representing a cross-section of Alabama interests, including legal scholars, law enforcement, state and local public servants, clergy and successful members of the business community. In addition to Benjamin, Ball and Cochran, the members include: Chairman and former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, A.R. Rey Almodovar, Dr. Deborah Barnhart, Young Boozer, Elizabeth Huntley, Carl Jamison, Justice Jim Main, Phillip Rawls and Bishop B. Mike Watson.
According to Ivey, all of the members have agreed to sign a pledge adhering to the Alabama Ethics Law and to serve without any kind of compensation or reimbursement for their expenses at their first public meeting. The plan is for the group to submit a final report no later than Dec. 31.
Speaking with Lagniappe this week, Cochran said he’s run into several illegal gambling operations over the years during his time as sheriff and chief of the Mobile Police Department. He didn’t offer a strong opinion on what he feels Alabama’s gambling laws should be, adding that he plans to keep an open mind.
“For years in law enforcement, I’ve been around various types of illegal gambling and I have busted up some of those operations,” Cochran said. “However, I’ve also acknowledged what types of gambling are legal in the state of Alabama like the parimutuel betting at the dog track [in Theodore].”
Cochran said he’s tried to stay on top of the legal status of various types of gaming in Alabama, but said problems have existed for years because the statutes governing what is and isn’t legal in the state haven’t always been very clear — and in some cases, have just been flattly ignored. He said he understands why Ivey would want to take a comprehensive look before committing to anything long term.
“She wants to get a complete package of the facts so that legislators and citizens can have a good, open book on everything and not have to piecemeal things together,” Cochran said. “I assume you’re going to continue to have special interests in the state legislature that will be looking to back one idea or proposal because it advances their interests over some other.”
Dale Leisch contributed to this report.
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