BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Casino gaming in Alabama was a hot topic at a former for gubernatorial candidates today hosted by the Birmingham Business Journal at Samford University.
With the state's unemployment rate about 11%, most of the candidates at the forum Tuesday said they thought jobs and job creation should be issue number one in this race. But, they all admitted with casino gambling such a hot issue, it may become the predominant thing voters are talking about, at least for the next several months.
"The gambling issue is the tail wagging the dog," said Republican candidate Bradley Byrne. "Gambling is not the most important issue facing the state of Alabama. We've got to find a way to put people back to work, grow our economy. Gambling is not going to do that. I'm afraid we are being distracted."
"There's nothing we can do, that situation is on its own trajectory," said Tim James, another GOP candidate. "My focus is on jobs and the economy and doing what we can to get the ball rolling."
A majority of the eight gubernatorial candidates at Tuesday's forum said they want to focus on jump starting the state's economy, but believe the legislature and public are so focused on gambling that the issue must be dealt with before other issues like jobs get their due.
But some candidates believe creating jobs and answering the gaming question are one and the same.
"I've said unless Birmingham wanted to stop me, we need to make Birmingham a destination point," said Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate. "They ought to have an opportunity to put a casino right downtown. That brings people to Birmingham, it creates jobs, it helps economic development."
"I don't think Birmingham's future is casinos," said Rep. Artur Davis, who's running against Sparks for the Democratic nomination. "I'm for people making a decision on whether they want gaming to be legal, but frankly biomedicine, biotech, those are the things that are going to grow the job base that we need for Birmingham to move ahead economically."
All of the major candidates except Roy Moore were at the forum. Candidates including Kay Ivey, Dr. Robert Bentley, James Potts, and Bill Johnson all said the state needs to settle the bingo issue once and for all.
All of the candidates agreed the next governor has to realize that more than 40% of the state's economy is generated in the Birmingham metro area, and renew a focus on creating jobs in this area so the entire state can benefit.