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Two Fights Over Legalized Gamblingcomment (0)

August 7, 2014

By Bob Terry

Two Fights Over Legalized Gambling

Two fights about legalized gambling are going on in Alabama today. One is public with lots of press. The other hardly gets a mention. The outcomes of both are important for the future of the state. 

Thanks to Parker Griffith it looks like Alabama will once again debate the wisdom of a state-sponsored lottery. Listening to the democratic candidate for governor, one would think it is 1998 all over again. That is the year Don Siegelman rode the promise of an educational lottery to the governorship. 

Griffith’s claims for the lottery echo Siegelman’s campaign. The lottery, he says, will solve the financial problems of education in Alabama. 

That was not true in Siegelman’s day and it is not true now. Alabama voters sent the proposal down to a humiliating defeat in 1999. An idea that once led at the polls by 20 percentage points was rejected by a 54 to 46 percent margin once people examined the issue. 

Robin Hood in reverse

A state-sponsored lottery is Robin Hood in reverse. It takes from the poor and gives to the rich. Just look at Georgia where the majority of lottery sales occur in zip codes near the bottom of the economic ladder but those who benefit from it come from higher income areas. 

Turning the state of Alabama into a side-show huckster trying to separate its citizens from their hard-earned paychecks through gambling is bad public policy. 

The state should not be in the gambling business, let alone running a monopoly on a numbers racket. It is wrong. It is harmful. It is deceitful. 

Yet the idea has more lives than a phoenix. Slay it one year and it is back the next. 

Siegelman tried to resurrect the lottery in 2002 and lost his re-election campaign. 

Four years ago, democrat Ron Sparks trumpeted the values of the lottery and lost. But here the idea is again. 

It seems the backers of this scheme know they only have to win once for a state-sponsored lottery to become part of Alabama life. Those opposed to the lottery have to win every time the issue comes up to keep it out. 

This year there is another wrinkle. For some the question is not about whether a state-sponsored lottery is good public policy. It is about finding new revenue. The easy road is to turn to “sin taxes” like the lottery rather than doing the hard work of crafting a fair and equitable tax structure for the state.  

It will be interesting to see if legislative leaders maintain their well-known opposition to a state-sponsored lottery or if their search for state income will cause them to compromise their principled positions. 

While the lottery debate goes on in the public square few take notice of the fight against legalized gambling going on in the courts. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has done an admiral job of championing the rule of law. With the assistance of the courts, illegal electronic gambling has been largely closed down. 

Now Strange is focused on what he calls illegal casino gambling run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Strange argues the casinos operated by the Poarch Band are illegal because they are not on American Indian land. 

According to the U.S. Supreme Court only American Indian tribes recognized by the U.S. government by 1934 can have land held in trust by the U.S. government. The Poarch Band was not recognized until 1984 — 50 years after the deadline. 

Appealed decision

Strange lost in U.S. District Court in April when the court ruled the state’s case was filed too late. According to federal law, all challenges had to be filed within six years of the law being adopted in 1934. That decision is now being appealed. 

Strange argues the District Court’s ruling contravenes the “well-worn rule” that “administrative actions taken in violation of statutory authorization or requirements are of no effect” citing case law going back to 1917.  

He argues that because the secretary of the interior lacked authority to take lands into trust on behalf of the Poarch Band the state of Alabama should have opportunity to have its case against the illegal gambling in American Indian casinos heard in court. 

Even if the land is American Indian land, Strange argues, Alabama should still be able to stop the illegal gambling under state civil law because the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act specifies: “[F]or purposes of federal law, all state laws pertaining to the licensing, regulation or prohibition of gambling, including but not limited to criminal sanctions applicable thereto, shall apply in Indian country in the same manner and to the same extent as such laws apply elsewhere in the state” (emphasis added). 

The case is more complicated than these few paragraphs can outline. The legal briefs can be found at http://bit.ly/1tyS20J. 

It is encouraging to know the attorneys general of five other states facing issues of American Indian gambling have endorsed the arguments of the Alabama appeal and filed their own friend of the court brief in support of Alabama’s position. 

The thousands of slot machines filling the American Indian casinos in Wetumpka, Atmore and Montgomery clearly violate the definition of bingo issued by the Alabama Supreme Court. 

These machines are illegal everywhere in Alabama and that includes American Indian land. The Poarch Band has no agreement with Alabama allowing these illegal gambling machines. 

Hopefully the appeals court will reverse the district court ruling and allow Alabama’s suit against the American Indian casinos to be heard.

By applying the rule of law Alabama has come a long way in four years. The invasion of electronic gambling machines has been stopped. 

The store-front gambling dens that popped up across the state are gone. Destination gambling sites in Greene County and Macon County have been reigned in. 

But the fights go on. They go on in the public square as we once again face the state-sponsored lottery question. And they go on almost unnoticed in the courts as efforts to eliminate illegal gambling in American Indian casinos continue. 

Both fights are important and hopefully both fights will be won. 

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