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Council on gambling could have recommendations before end of legislative session
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Council on gambling could have recommendations before end of legislative session

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Council on gaming Eric Johnston

Eric Johnston of the Southeast Law Institue speaks to the Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2016 in Montgomery, Ala.

Montgomery — Recommendations on Alabama’s gambling law could be presented to legislators before the end of the 2017 legislative session.

Clinton Carter, director of the Alabama Finance Department and the chairman of the Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming, said at the council’s meeting Thursday it could have its recommendation for the governor and Legislature in two or three months.

The 2017 session is scheduled to end in May.

Thursday’s meeting in the Alabama Statehouse was the council's sixth meeting since Gov. Robert Bentley formed it in October.

Bentley created the council to provide recommendations to himself and the Alabama Legislature on state gambling laws in response to VictoryLand casino in Shorter reopening in September.

Bentley originally called on the council to have a recommendation by the end of January, but the council asked to be given until June 30 to review the gambling issue in Alabama.

Carter said the recommendations will likely be a list of several options and best practices from around the country.

He added that the Legislature could act before the council finishes its work.

“Our goal isn't necessarily to coincide with the legislative calendar,” Carter said. “Sure, we'd like to be able to give them something and to reach a conclusion prior to them leaving. But I think it's more important that we get it right.”

The 11-member council is made up of a mix of legislators and members of the state government.

Eric Johnston, with the conservative Southeast Law Institute, gave a presentation on his interpretation of Alabama’s gambling laws which he said ban all forms of gambling.

“So if you have continued smoke and mirrors and opposition causing lawsuits, it gives the impression that there's confusion,” Johnston said. “But if you read through the (Alabama Supreme Court) cases, they're consistent, they're clear, they're direct. What's happened is the public is confused.”

The various constitutional amendments allowing bingo do not include the types of machines used at casinos like VictoryLand, he said, adding that VictoryLand was “the most brazen” example of the violation of Alabama’s law on gambling.

“They're operating down there right now,” he said.

The Poach Band of Creek Indians’ casinos are also illegal because federal rules say gambling is only allowed on Native American land if it is legal in the state, Johnston said to the council.

Bobby Timmons, executive director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association and member of the council, said he agreed the dual standard wasn’t right using language many Native Americans consider a racial slur.

“We're all human beings,” Timmons said. “The red men shouldn't have any more benefits than the white man.”

The National Indian Gaming Commission, which regulates Native American casinos, has said the electronic bingo machines in the Poach Band of Creek Indians’ casinos comply with Federal law.

The council also heard from anyone in the audience who wished to speak.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program, a political group funded by Alabama churches, said last year’s lottery bill was an example of gambling interests misleading voters. He said the bill would’ve legalized all forms of gambling in the state.

“When you talk about letting people vote, they don't always know what they're voting for,” Godfrey said.

As gambling grows, the gambling business will start to take over the state government by funding politicians, Godfrey told the council, which led to a question from Timmons.

“Preacher, with what you said, that sounds like you're saying the beer distributors run the government,” Timmons said. “...You and I both know the revenue from it goes to education. If John doesn't get drunk today, Jimmy don't get educated tomorrow.”

Iva Williams from Birmingham said Alabama was missing out an opportunity to fund government.

“Here are my lottery tickets,” Williams said holding up a pair of crinkled Georgia Lottery tickets. “Some kid in Georgia is going to college because I go over there and buy lottery tickets.”

The council’s next meeting will be after the start of the legislative session, either Feb. 9 or Feb. 16.

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