Alabama’s dilemma: choosing between gambling or taxes to plug budget deficit(1)

Alabamas dilemma: choosing between gambling or taxes to plug budget deficit(1)

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Del Marsh doesn’t consider himself a betting man. Yet the longtime Republican official representing Anniston, Alabama, has placed his chips on a solution to fix the state’s several-hundred-million-dollar budget shortf

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all that’s reignited the longstanding debate over a controversial topic in this conservative state: gambling.

Past efforts to loosen Alabama’s gaming restrictions have largely fallen on closed ears. But the times could be changing. A new proposal to legalize traditional casinos and establish a lottery, two forms of gambling that have traditionally encountered backlash in the heart of the Bible belt, has surfaced at the behest of conservative lawmakers.

State lawmakers are being forced to close the state’s more than $250m short-term budget gap during the current legislative session. Governor Robert Bentley, who so far has resisted calls for direct budget cuts from the legislative branch, has proposed raising $541m in new taxes to address both immediate and long-term budget shortfalls.

Alabama residents, long opposed to increases in both gaming and taxes, could be forced to choose the lesser of two evils.

“You’ve got to understand, whereas Republicans may not favor gaming strongly, they definitely oppose higher taxes,” says Marsh, who currently serves as the Alabama senate president pro tempore. “When you’re left with the option of the governor S188 increasing taxes, I think it’s only fair to let the people vote on it. The taxes would not. Let the people make that decision before we tax them.”

Marsh says his bill would give voters the chance to legalize class II and class III gambling – which include slot machines, blackjack, poker, craps and other table games – near the state’s four greyhound tracks. Currently, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the state’s lone federally recognized tribe, has smaller-scale casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka that offer electronic bingo that looks like slot machines but is legal. Gamblers seeking a traditional gambling experience with slot machines or roulette must leave the state to cash in their chips.

 

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