Budget Decisions: Consequences of Gambling Expansion (Compact) Vs. Other Ways

May 13, 2015

To:   Governor Robert Bentley

Members, Alabama Senate and House

From: Eunie Smith, Eagle Forum of Alabama

You are in our prayers as you make the hard, limited-government choices that result in the most cost-effective government and the most liberty for our citizens.  We wish to share the following four points with you as you wrestle with budget decisions. Explanations follow.

  • It is NOT a foregone conclusion that the Poarch Creek Indians will have any gambling going forward.
  • We’re not just talking about gambling on Indian Reservations.
  • Gambling interests will take control of politics and policy making in Alabama.
  • There is Another Way.

1.      It is NOT a foregone conclusion that the Poarch Creek Indians will have any gambling going forward.

The push for a compact is premised on the notion that Indian gambling is here to stay, and therefore we might as well tax it.  This is a false premise!  It is being used to convince conservative legislators who would otherwise oppose gambling to give up and support a compact!

The Alabama Attorney General has a strong case pending in the federal Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (in Atlanta) that could be decided in a matter of weeks.  If the appeal is successful and the Attorney General eventually wins the case, it will undermine the right of the Poarch Creek to conduct any gambling operations in Alabama!

For over five years, the issue of “electronic bingo” has been fought out in case after case in Alabama state courts.  It is this form of gambling that has been conducted up until now on both Indian and non-Indian land in Alabama.   Just a few months ago, in a case called Houston County Economic Development Ass’n. v. State (November 21, 2014), our Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling that finally settles the matter once and for all:  so-called “electronic bingo” is illegal under Alabama law.  Only paper bingo is allowed.  Now that this ruling is in place, there is good reason to believe that the federal courts will take notice and rule that, since this gambling is illegal under Alabama law on non-Indian land, federal law will not permit it on Indian land either.

In addition, the case brought by the Attorney General also includes a sound argument that  the land on which all of the Indian gambling is being conducted in Alabama was not even properly taken “into trust” for the benefit of the Poarch Creek tribe.  In a 2009 case called Carcieri v. Salazar, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that only Indian tribes recognized as such by the federal government in 1934 could benefit from land taken into trust for them by the Secretary of Interior.  Alabama’s Poarch Creeks were not recognized as a tribe until the 1980’s!

2.  We’re not just talking about gambling on Indian Reservations.

If we enter into a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, non-Indian gambling bosses will never let us hear the end of it.  They will keep pushing until they have the same rights.  Once we “cross the Rubicon” and become a gambling state, the political pressure from non-Indians to be treated “equally” will be relentless.   (The tools available will include massive political contributions to those who favor increased gambling and equally massive contributions to recruit and support opponents for those who oppose increased gambling.)

The result of gambling expansion is NOT more reliable net revenue to the state.  However, the costs are reliable: more addictions, more family breakdown, more divorces, increased crime, increased law enforcement and public assistance programs, business and restaurant closings …   See http://stoppredatorygambling.org/

3.     Gambling Interests will Take Control of Politics in Alabama.

In Mississippi today, whenever a new law is proposed in the legislature, the first question legislators ask is “Where are the casinos on this?”  Do we in Alabama really want to turn control of our state politics over to the gambling bosses?

Right now the two biggest donors in Alabama state politics are the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Business Council of Alabama.  Of course there are other “players,” but these are the two dominant forces.  But if we legalize casinos, the amount of cash generated will easily swamp the combined political resources available to current donor groups.  The gross profits from three or more Las Vegas style casino operations could easily exceed $2 million dollars a day.   Whether Indian or non-Indian, the gambling money is huge, it is politically minded and it will likely not be chasing after conservative candidates.  Gambling money will control Alabama politics.   (While there is talk of restricting political participation by casinos, this is only being proposed as to Indian casinos; and, besides, substantial First Amendment questions exist as to whether any such restrictions will be enforceable.)

Make no mistake:  Signing a compact with the Indians will usher in a new era in which gambling bosses will control Alabama politics.  They will have much more influence than most people realize over who we elect to our courts, as our Governor, and as our representatives in Montgomery and even in Washington.

4.  There is Another Way – Un-earmarking and combining the budgets

“The solution to Alabama’s budget ‘crisis’ is so simple it will blow your mind,” according to Yellowhammernews, which explains that there will be a surplus in education trust fund tax revenues this year of $287 million!  This is almost exactly the same amount as the projected shortfall of $290 million in this year’s general fund budget!  So without one dollar from gambling interests, the State already has enough money to fund essentially the entire deficit!    What is required is that we un-earmark all or even just part of the excess money that is now restricted.  And much of this money can be un-earmarked simply by an act of the legislature.

Additionally, the legislature can continue to cut out inappropriate expenditures; and it is time to combine our education and general fund budgets.  If 47 other state legislatures can manage dollars used for education without a separate budget, so can Alabama.  Please consider these options as you move forward.

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