March 4, 2010 Montgomery Advertiser
Gambling bill's sponsor says issue 'over' .
The sponsor of a bill that would tax and regulate gambling in the state said debate on the issue is "over" after a vote failed to bring the bill up for debate Wednesday, but others believe the stakes are too high for the issue to disappear. more
Feb 23, 2010 The Anniston Star
Winning at gambling: Poarch Creeks stand to gain
Over the years, Native Americans in Alabama have had a hard time at the hands of government. State officials took their land, moved them about, broke treaties with them, desecrated their graves, plundered their cultural sites and often relegated them to historical footnotes.
Now, however, it seems the Indians may win one.
As this page noted last week, two gambling bills are moving through committees of the state Legislature. Both bills are flawed. However, from the perspective of Indians who operate legal casinos in the state, it doesn’t matter which gambling bill happens to pass.
If the bill that may come up in the state Senate this week is approved, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians will get to add electronic bingo to its Mobile County dog track. If the bill fails, Gov. Bob Riley’s task force will continue to try to close non-tribal bingo parlors, which will leave only the Indian bingo casinos in Wetumpka, Montgomery and Atmore for Alabama gamblers who don’t want to drive to Mississippi.
That would mean Native Americans will have a monopoly on electronic bingo in Alabama — and the state will get nothing in return.
Either way, the Indians win and the state loses.
Sweet revenge. In fact, they are already winning.
When the state’s largest electronic bingo operation, Victoryland in Shorter, closed recently to avoid being raided, the Indian casino in Wetumpka saw its business increase. Alabamians continue to gamble. Indian casinos, which operate under a legal compact with the state, are seeing profits.
The bingo battle is likely to come to a head this week when the proposed constitutional amendment to define, allow and regulate electronic bingo reaches the top of the Senate’s agenda. If that happens — and it passes — the bill still has to survive the House, where opponents appear to be stronger than in the Senate. Busy weeks are ahead.
But no matter the bill’s fate, the governor must slow down his crusade and realize Alabama’s Indian casinos are not going away.
That’s another reason why an agreement is needed between the state and tribes that clarifies which gambling is allowed and what revenue arrangement is appropriate.
If Riley cannot bring himself to make such an agreement, let’s hope his successor is less dogmatic and more pragmatic. It is time to apply reason to what politics has turned into an irrational situation.
This proposition (below) was proposed to limit Indians from operating casinos on non Indian land, but the Governor and the Las Vegas casino operators working with the Indians are continuing to put casinos on non-Indian land.... there are no restrictions on their location, which is exactly what is going to happen here in Alabama if the Indians are allowed to do whatever they want by not rescinding local bingo amendments.
Randy Brinson, MD
Senate Committee Refuses To Vote On Huffman’s Indian Gaming Resolution
ACR 56 would allow local residents and local governments to be heard
San Rafael, CA – Members of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee yesterday refused to vote on a resolution authored by Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D–San Rafael) that would give local communities a voice in the establishment of a major gambling facility in their area.
After hearing testimony on the resolution, with opposition from numerous Indian tribes, including the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the Committee Chairman announced that the measure did not have the support of the committee to take a vote on the measure.
“The fact that the committee refused to even vote on this resolution is a wake-up call that the political pendulum has swung too far in favor of California’s multi-billion-dollar Indian gaming industry, and that communities affected by off-reservation urban casinos currently have no voice in Sacramento,” stated Huffman. “I will continue fighting for this issue until local communities and local governments’ voices are heard.”
ACR 56 calls upon the Governor to refrain from negotiating a tribal-state gaming compact to allow class III gaming until 1) land has been taken into trust for a tribe; 2) the tribe has jurisdiction over the land; and 3) the local jurisdiction and the local community in which the tribe’s proposed gaming project would be located supports the project as demonstrated by an advisory vote, as well as one or more intergovernmental agreements between the Indian tribe and cities and counties in order to mitigate the impacts of a proposed casino, which can include huge increases in traffic congestion, crime, air pollution, and groundwater degradation.
“It is imperative that the Governor not negotiate compacts for gaming on non-Indian lands if the residents, businesses and governments in the area are opposed,” Huffman said. “No community should have a massive Las Vegas-style casino forced upon them against the wishes of residents and their elected leaders.”
The Governor is authorized to negotiate compacts, subject to ratification by the Legislature, for the operation of slot machines and for the conduct of lottery games and banking and percentage card games by federally recognized Indian tribes on Indian lands in California.
“When California voters approved Proposition 1A to authorize the Governor to negotiate Indian gaming compacts, proponents assured voters that the measure would only allow limited gambling on existing tribal lands,” Huffman said. “Since the passage of Prop 1A, some tribes, backed by non-tribal financial interests and Nevada casino operators, have violated the proposition’s spirit and have attempted to establish casinos far from their reservations.”
“ACR 56 sends a clear policy message to parties that try to test the limits of federal and state laws in an attempt to obtain gaming compacts, that such attempts will not be considered in the State of California and that the State will only negotiate compacts with federally-recognized tribes that have land in trust on which the gaming is to occur,” Huffman concluded.
ACR 56 will be eligible to be considered again by the Senate Governmental Organization Committee next year.
Capitol: State Capitol - P.O. Box 942849 -Sacramento, CA 94249-0006 - Tel: (916) 319-2006 - Fax: (916) 319-2106
District: 3501 Civic Center Drive, Room 412 - San Rafael, CA 94903 - Tel: (415) 479-4720 - Fax: (415) 479-2123
Rolling the Dice on Bingo in Alabama
Sunday, October 11, 2009
By RANDY BRINSON
Special to the Press-Register
The recent federal court ruling in Madison County is constructive in understanding the complexity of the gambling laws within the state and particularly how state laws would apply to Indian gaming operations within the state of Alabama. In particular, contrary to recent press releases and reporting by some of the state newspapers, Judge Linwood Smith, in ruling that the gambling operation in Madison County was illegal, he went to specific lengths to state that the court was not ruling on the legality of electronic bingo, only the manner of which the bingo was operating. This is particularly important since the governor’s gambling task force has repeatedly asserted that if a federal or state court ruled that electronic bingo was illegal, then all bingo operations, both private and those operated by Indian tribes in Alabama would be deemed illegal.
In order to understand the implications of these recent court rulings, it is important to understand the complexity of the gambling laws within the State of Alabama. Since the ratification of the Alabama Constitution of 1901, which had prohited any form of lottery or game of chance, there have been 18 separate constitutional amendments that allow some form of bingo, most of which are strictly regulated and designed for charitable purposes. In addition, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, allowed for Indian tribes to conduct various forms of gambling within their tribal lands, subject to federal regulations and independent of state jurisdiction. Class 2 gambling however, limited to gambling such as bingo and card games, was allowed without having to obtain a compact, or agreement with the states in which they reside. In addition, bingo, whether electronically or computer enhanced, was separately distinguished from other types of Class 2 gaming that had to conform to state laws. As a result, when more sophisticated electronic bingo games became available, the Indian tribes were the first ones to make use of these machines. During this same time period, Indian gambling increased from approximately 100 million dollars a year to over 60 billion dollars per year, accounting for almost 16% of all money wagered in the US. In addition, many states proceeded with signing compacts with Indian tribes within their borders in order to obtain some of the revenue generated in return for allowing even more sophisticated table games, which would have otherwise been prohibited.
Subsequently, the expansion of gambling by Indian tribes caught the attention of the Bush administration, particularly electronic bingo, which was being operated on Indian lands, many times in competition to private gambling operations. Harriet Miers, who was Texas Lottery Commission while George Bush was governor of Texas, had announced that the electronic bingo machines were the same as slot machines, and as such, should be classified as Class 3 gaming which could only be operated by compact, or permission from the state. Around the same time period, states began to exert their authority, challenging some aspects of IGRA in court. Over the next 10 years, federal court cases were litigated by both Florida and California, seeking to curtail high stakes bingo operations in their state, asserting that the bingo operations were not in compliance with the IGRA of 1988. In every instance, the federal courts ruled that the bingo operations were legal and that states had no right to interfere in their operations, culimating with an opinion by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002.
The Bush Administration then petitioned the Indian Gaming Regulatory Commission to curtail or “red line” electronic bingo operations separately from traditional bingo games. In 2007, studies showed that if electronic bingo was classified as Class 3 gaming, it would have a serious negative economic effect on Indian gambling operations. The Indian tribes made the case that if electronic bingo was regulated by the states and had to conform to state laws, then states could refuse to allow Class 3 gaming, and there would be no potential source of gambling revenue, which would be contrary to the intent of IGRA. Similarly, they argued, that since Class 3 gaming is much more desirable for the operators, the patrons, and the states, as far as revenue produced, then reclassifying electronic bingo would allow for no leverage with the states to encourage them to enter compacts with the Indian tribes. Therefore, the Indian gaming commission elected not to change the bingo classifications.
Meanwhile, in Alabama, electronic bingo operated by Indian tribes was being marketed to other sites within Alabama that had enabling bingo legislation as well as new electronic bingo constitutional amendments allowing for local operations. Since the Indians had electronic bingo and it was classified as Class 2 gaming, then as long as the machines conformed to the basic definition of bingo, it was determined that these machines would be legal forms of operating bingo. Thus began the controversy over electronic bingo within the state. To date, including the most recent ruling by Judge Linwood Smith, there has not been a successful case or determination that the electronic bingo is illegal in the state of Alabama, only the operation of the bingo machines. Furthermore, if the Alabama Supreme Court determines that electronic bingo operations are illegal and prohibited by the Constitution, the Indian gaming operations would not be effective, since their bingo operations do not have to conform to state laws, as long as any lottery or bingo operation is legal in the state, including paper bingo.
For that reason, the only remedy to the proliferation of gambling within our borders is by statewide referendum, where the people would determine the legality of bingo and if legal, to tax, regulate, and limit the operation of such gaming. Those who would opine otherwise are either being disingenious or not understanding of the previous case law governing gambling. It is instructive that the only states without any form of gambling are Utah and Hawaii. Utah, despite having part of 16 million acres of Navaho lands within its borders, has no Indian gambling operations, because they have no recognized form of gambling. Conversely, as Rev Dan Ireland pointed out, the 1980 Jefferson County Constitutional Amendment that allowed for charity bingo opened pandoras box for allowing for legalized gambling within the state of Alabama. Unless the constitution is amended to restrict gambling or eliminate it totally, then Indian gambling will continue with its negative effect on our state and potential for poltical corruption.
Chairman, Christian Coalition of Alabama
Are We "Rolling the Dice" With Gambling in the State of Alabama?
At a recent gubernatorial forum in Dothan, Alabama, hosted by the Dothan Chamber of Commerce, the candidates were questioned on their view on gambling and how best to address the rapid expansion of gambling within our state. In the last 5 years, gambling operations have expanded from those that were operated at the established dog tracks to over 50 different sites across the state. Many of these new operations opened when there was little to no prosecution by local officials in regard to "charity bingo" operations within a number of counties. These operations were further emboldened by the fact that local leaders, with declining tax revenues, saw gambling as a means to increase local funding for their city or county governments, using previously passed local constitutional amendments to justify their existence. Officials in Dothan, and Houston County in particular, are counting on electronic bingo operations at the Country Crossroads development to fund its growth and underwrite much of their entertainment venture, which made the question of legalized gambling all the more problematic for the candidates.
To further complicate matters, as reported by the Montgomery Independent, legal opinions from experts from the Governor's Task Force Against Gambling have given a number of opinions regarding the legality of gambling in the state. Some have opined that electronic bingo games are allowed by local amendments unless the constitution is changed or a new state constitution is drafted, since some of the amendments clearly defined electronic bingo and the manner in which the games must be conducted in order to remain legal. Others have contended that the existing electronic bingo machines are technically "slot machines" and as such, should be outlawed since they are not bingo machines and are not legally allowed by state law. Still others have concluded that since the Code of Alabama has forbid the use of any machine that receives money for a chance to obtain a payout is illegal, this would apply to all bingo operations. This particular opinion is in the minority since most bingo operations are operating under the legal premise of the local constitutional amendments, which would supersede any state statute.
Randy Brinson, MD
Chair, Christian Coalition of Alabama
Download Judge Lynwood Smith’s Ruling here
Federal judge rules against Alabama bingo hall operator
Alabama Consitution violated
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
KENT FAULK, News staff writer Birmingham News
In a decision that could have implications across the state, a federal judge ruled Monday that a Texas veterans group violated an Alabama constitutional amendment in the way it ran a Madison County bingo hall.
U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith also said, but stopped short of issuing a formal order, that he believes casino-style electronic bingo machines like those used at the Triana bingo hall - which have become widespread in Alabama - are illegal under state law.
Both statements could have far-reaching implications. One attorney noted that Madison County's bingo amendment shares similar language with others around the state, including one for Jefferson County. And Gov. Bob Riley seized on Smith's beliefs about the slots-style bingo machines being illegal.
Smith's ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Department of Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars in 2007. The lawsuit was filed after Madison County sheriff's deputies raided and confiscated electronic bingo machines at the Triana hall operated by the Texas VFW.
Texas VFW's lawsuit had asked the judge to rule its operation legal and prohibit Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning from conducting more raids. But Smith on Monday ruled against the veterans group and in favor of Dorning.
Smith said in his 67-page opinion that the electronic bingo machines at that bingo hall are illegal because of similarities with slot machines, which are banned in Alabama. "These similarities compel the conclusion that the electronic bingo games at issue in this case constitute illegal slot machines under Alabama law," he wrote.
But Smith stopped just short of ruling the machines illegal, saying that he could not rule on the Texas VFW's question because the Texas VFW was operating its bingo hall illegally so the question of the machines' legality was moot.
Regardless of whether the Texas VFW group's machines were bingo or slot machines under Alabama law, the Triana gaming operation can't be legal because it didn't meet other terms of the state amendment allowing bingo in Madison County, Smith wrote.
Bingo is considered illegal gambling in Alabama except in counties, including Madison and Jefferson and several others, where special constitutional amendments have been approved by voters.
Smith said the Texas VFW group failed to meet requirements of Madison County's amendment on several points, including:
The games were operated by an entity other than the charity.
The games were not operated solely on property owned or leased by the charity.
Multiple individuals and companies contracted to provide services for the gaming operation.
The games were not operated "directly and solely" by a single nonprofit group.
Prizes awarded may have exceeded dollar limitations set by law.
Efforts to reach an attorney representing the Texas VFW were unsuccessful Monday afternoon.
An attorney for Sheriff Dorning said Smith's ruling could affect the way electronic bingo operations are looked at by judges tackling similar issues in other counties.
Where there are bingo amendments similar to Madison County's, Smith's ruling "may be persuasive to judges looking at those counties," said Julian Butler, a Huntsville attorney representing Dorning. "Many of the other counties have the same provisions as Madison County."
The amendment for Jefferson County, approved by voters in 1980, is nearly identical to Madison County's amendment.
Gov. Bob Riley, who opposes electronic bingo, said Monday's ruling should sound a warning to other counties and cities considering bingo.
"This operation is typical of the kind of establishments that have popped up all over the state," Riley said in a statement to The Birmingham News. "It has nothing to do with charity, and it has nothing to do with bingo. It's a sham."
Riley said Smith's ruling also mirrored what his administration has been saying about the spread of electronic bingo in the state. "Machines that look and act like slot machines constitute illegal slot machines, no matter what they're called," he said.
Several bingo halls, including the Texas VFW, in court filings have brought up a 2004 memo by Alabama Attorney General Troy King that says electronic bingo machines are legal under certain circumstances.
In his opinion Monday, Smith said that the attorney general cannot legalize otherwise illegal activity or declare any activity to be legal. The governor and King have had a difference of opinion over the interpretation of Alabama's gambling laws.
"The court also makes it clear that the attorney general's 2004 press release provides no shelter for this illegal activity," Riley said in his press release.
King said Monday evening that he has said since 2004 that the memo was informal advice to law enforcement and was not an opinion issued by his office. "Neither can the governor of Alabama say something is illegal that the law makes legal," he said.
The state has 18 amendments making bingo legal in counties or cities in the state, King said. Smith's ruling clarified one amendment "but there's still a lot of uncertainty across Alabama about what the law is," he said.
"The right thing is to have a statewide referendum to let people decide on this once and for all," King said.