Steve Flowers is Alabama’s premier political journalist and commentator. He is also considered by many to be the preeminent authority on Alabama politics and Alabama political history.

July 02, 2015

Weekly Column This Week in Alabama Politics

Last week’s verdict that VictoryLand be allowed to reopen is justice served.  The people of Macon County voted for a constitutional amendment to allow for electronic bingo.  The issue of pari-mutuel style casino betting and the closing of the ultramodern and successful luxury gaming resort in Macon County has been laid to rest.

There have been extensive studies and articles that crystallize several obvious observations.  First of all, gambling or gaming is an extremely profitable venture and it is apparent that most Alabamians and Americans gamble whether it be online, through a bookie or via a lottery.  By the way, 48 of the 50 states receive revenue from gambling.  Alabama and Utah are the only states that do not.

The glaring question is why in the world would someone pick on VictoryLand when supposedly illicit gambling proliferates throughout the state and nation?  Another perplexing question to the average Alabamian is why the Indian casinos are allowed to operate all over the state making millions and not paying any taxes yet VictoryLand, which pays taxes and provides jobs as a resort location in one of Alabama’s poorest counties, is closed.

Finally, after years of legal battles, a court has made a ruling that the machines used to play electronic bingo in Alabama must be returned.  Montgomery Circuit Judge, William Shashy, was picked by Chief Justice Roy Moore and the Alabama Supreme Court to hear the case.   After lengthy deliberation, Judge Shashy ruled in favor of Macon County.  Attorney General Luther Strange has prudently shown that he will allow the local district attorneys throughout the state to choose whether or not they want to pursue closing of other facilities that are open.  It appears that VictoryLand will be able to reopen their facility and compete with the Indian casinos for tourists

It is a big win for the people of Macon County.  The VictoryLand Resort employed as many as 1,000 people in the county.  Judge Shashy ruled properly.  In fact, his ruling is the first time a court has actually decided the issue regarding the legality of electronic bingo.  Again, Attorney General Luther Strange should be applauded for his independence and honesty.  He has stated that it was a “fundamental fairness issue” that the state treat Indian and non-Indian casinos the same.

Under our 1901 Alabama Constitution, counties are given very little authority.  Therefore, in order to do almost anything they have to go through a cumbersome process to raise revenue or even perform functions of government.  Many times they have to go to the legislature to pass legislation granting them authority and then they further have to have an election and vote on an amendment to the state constitution.

Even though this labyrinth is long and arduous, it does carry the weight of being a part of the Constitution.  The people of Macon County, through legislative action and subsequent referendum, overwhelmingly approved their county’s right to have gaming via electronic bingo.

Macon County’s constitutional amendment is different from other counties.  They were ahead of the curve and knew exactly what they wanted.  Their Representative was Johnny Ford and their Senator was Myron Penn.  These men were clearly up front about the kind of bingo machines they intended to use.

As a member of the House of Representatives at the time, I recall Johnny Ford telling me that he had traveled to other parts of the country to see firsthand how electronic bingo worked.  They crafted their amendment to have this type of game.  Furthermore, in the referendum the proponents made sure Macon County voters knew that their measure focused on electronic bingo.  Their intent was made crystal clear in ads, flyers, meetings and media responses in which they informed Macon County residents of their intent.  The people overwhelmingly voted in favor of the constitutional amendment, but their constitutional rights have been trampled for more than three years.

VictoryLand is Macon County’s Mercedes, Airbus, and UAB.  Hopefully, they can now move on with their lives.

See you next week.