Bill Could Open Gambling Backup in Alabama with Economic Repercussions in Mississippi

Opening up a new business in any city almost always has repercussions to others that must be considered. While new casinos can boost the economy, pouring income in from residents and tourists, it can also hurt the economic success of nearby states who have come to relay on that money. This is the current matter that Alabama is dealing with as a bill is being contemplated that could reopen gambling and add up to four casinos across the state, when gaming in that region may already be stagnant.

Senator Del Marsh, a Republic in Anniston, bounced around ideas for a bill that would allow the casinos to be built. Over in Greenetrack, a part of West Alabama, those who have heard about the bill are quite interested in approving it. These officials, particularly Luther W. “Nat” Winn, published a news release on Friday, May 15th, 2015, which further cemented the enthusiasm felt about the possibility of the bill being passed.

The release reads as follows: “We strongly support giving the people of Alabama the right to vote on a statewide lottery and gaming. We are prepared to pay our fair share of taxes to make sure that the good people of this state continue to receive the essential services they need and deserve.”

It continues: “An Alabama lottery and the gaming industry can, and should, play a major role in helping the state solve its financial crisis. We are on standby to help, in any way, those leaders who are working so hard to find real solutions to the problems we face today in Alabama.”

Of the four cities that Marsh proposes should have casinos built Mobile is the largest. Marsh is strict about limiting Alabama to those four casinos only with no extra ones allowed to be built. He would want the Alabama Lottery and Gaming Commission, a relatively new organization, to be in charge of licensing the casinos, which would include bingo games, a racetrack for betting on dogs, table games and slot machines.

Marsh, doing his homework before proposing the bill, had worked with the Auburn University of Montgomery’s research team and asked them to look into how the new casinos would affect Alabama financially in the long-term.

Researchers estimate that an additional $285 – $300 million in profit could roll in each year from the casinos alone.

If the casinos use a 13% tax for all of the money paid out to winners, an extra $75 million could float in as well. Besides that, nearly $300 million more could be generated into the city’s economy if the Poarch Board of Creek Indians can set up an agreement with Governor Robert Bentley.

Of course, it would take several years to see the economic effects of the four casinos if approved, probably not until 2016 if not later. However, Marsh believes that it would be better to add these casinos than tax each resident more money. Money that comes from people who would gamble elsewhere.

Greenetrack officials are most definitely on Marsh’s side. They said: “All we ask if to be afforded the same rights and protections given to the Native Americans in our state, the ability to rehire the hundreds of dedicated employees who have lost their jobs at our facilities, and the opportunity to help fund our local charities and schools that have depended on our financial support for more than three decades.”

On Thursday, May 14th, the Senate tourism and marketing committee took a look at the bill and approved it at a final vote of 5-3. Next, the state would have to give its mostly unanimous approval for the bill to progress. In the meantime, Marsh will be working tirelessly to get others to agree to the benefits of the bill.

Although they cannot impact the final vote on the bill, vocal opposition has come from Mississippi residents, particularly those in South Mississippi. State officials know that the majority of the tourists that come to the state to gamble live in Alabama. Other states residents that frequently travel for the thrill of the casinos include Georgia and Florida.

The most popular gambling season for Mississippi is January until March, and it’s estimated that the state receives an influx of nearly four million people during that time. However, if Alabama does indeed build its four casinos throughout the state, including the one in Mobile, there would be practically no need for Alabama residents to travel to South Mississippi anymore to partake in gambling.

Michael Cavanaugh, South Mississippi’s gaming attorney for nearly 30 years, doesn’t see a particularly sunny forecast in the future if the bill is passed. Biloxi’s casinos are located only about 50 miles away from where the purported dog racing track and casino would be built in Mobile. What benefits would players have going to one over the other?

Mississippi Gaming Commission’s executive director Allen Godfrey spoke in May in Biloxi at the Southern Gaming Summit. “The Gulf Coat would feel the pain if Alabama opened their market,” he stated, adding that there’s already been a 60 percent drop in revenue and tourism since other states nearby have opened casinos.

With so many other options, including D’Iberville’s own Scarlet Pearl, which is the twelfth gambling facility along the coast, people have more choices than ever where to gamble. As Kevin Smith, the Boyd Gaming President, also noted when at the Southern Gaming Summit:

“One in every three Americans will visit a casino this year.”

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