The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 30, 2012

Let the state decide the gambling issue

Associated Press

The Tuscaloosa News on state gambling issues:

After years of trials, special task forces and seizures, it appears little has been resolved with regard to gambling in Alabama. With VictoryLand reopening and Greene County casinos long open for business, the state looks to be right back where it started.

Casino gambling is illegal in Alabama. Voters in some counties gave their approval to conduct games of “charity bingo.” In Greene County, the enabling legislation allows the use of electronic devices in bingo games.

And yet in various locations around the state, casinos are operating, filled with machines that look suspiciously like slot machines. If voters envisioned legislation creating the opportunity for churches and other charitable organizations to hold the kind of “Friday night bingo” games most associate with “charity bingo,” that’s not what they got.

Casino owners and law enforcement officers are constantly engaged in a game of cat and mouse that never seems to get resolved. Local officials butt heads with state authorities.

When Robert Bentley ran for governor, he said that he is opposed to gambling but would not object to a statewide vote on whether it should be legal. However, he never promised to bring the issue to a head by calling for that state referendum. And thus the issue has lingered and festered.

The issue should be resolved.

If casino gambling operations are allowed to exist in Alabama, they should be taxed and regulated consistently throughout the state. Right now, that is not the case.

In most states where casino gambling is legal, a state commission oversees gambling operations. If casinos are going to operate in Alabama, licenses should be issued at the state level and someone should be charged with ensuring that games are conducted fairly.

It’s time to let the people of Alabama settle the issue.